Emergency room doctors and nurses are often the only contact victims of human trafficking have with the outside world, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said Friday while launching an initiative aimed to train emergency workers how to identify signs of trafficking.
Under the plan, emergency room workers will be trained to ask certain questions of people who show signs of being trafficked. Those questions run the line of "Who is that person with you?" to "Do you ever feel pressured to do something you didn't want to do?" to "Has anyone approached you asking you to get involved in prostitution?"
If the suspicions are confirmed, the emergency workers are encouraged to separate the victim from anyone accompanying them and contact a national trafficking hotline to report the case.
Florida ranks No. 3 in the nation for number of calls to a national trafficking hotline, according to state officials, and the emergency room initiative is believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
Bondi said the idea for the initiative came from speaking to emergency room doctors in Tallahassee.
"They approached me and said 'Help us. We know we're seeing people come into the ER. We know they're victims of human trafficking but we don't know what to do,'" Bondi said. "'We need to know what signs to look for and we need your help.' That was really music to our ears."
Signs of trafficking include lacking identification or a fixed address, a reluctance to explain the nature of an accident, an accompanying person who tries to speak on their behalf, signs of bruising, cuts or burns and medical complications from untreated sexually transmitted diseases.
The emergency room initiative is only the latest efforts by the Attorney General's Office and state lawmakers to counter human and sex trafficking in Florida.
A Statewide Council on Human Trafficking has been formed, and lawmakers passed legislation this year removing limitations for prosecuting trafficking crimes. Earlier this year, Bondi launched an initiative to help businesses, especially in construction, trucking and hospitality, spot human trafficking.
Last year, Florida's first safe house for victims of sex trafficking opened but it closed months later after several victims ran away, unable to break their bond with their pimps or feeling more comfortable on the streets.