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Nurse’s Inventive Screening Protocol Helps Victims of Human Trafficking

Nurses are more likely to come in contact with human trafficking victims during the time of their exploitation than any other profession[1], but very few are identified by staff and helped to find safety. Nurse innovator Danielle Jordan Bastien, APRN, DNP, FNP-BC, was determined to help those potential victims who might be in danger by developing a screening protocol that helps healthcare workers identify signs of abuse.

Metro Detroit nurse Danielle Jordan Bastien, APRN, DNP, FNP-BC, never thought she would become a nurse. “I was someone who couldn’t walk into a hospital without getting grossed out,” she said. But after exploring multiple careers paths, she found her calling in nursing and enthusiastically pursued advanced nursing education. Nursing fueled her passion to leave an impact and recently inspired her to develop a human trafficking screening program while working towards her nursing doctorate at Wayne State University and as a nurse in the emergency department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan.

“I’ve always been interested in helping vulnerable populations, so when I looked into what data existed there wasn’t much, and there was really nothing out there nationwide,” Danielle explains. “I checked my hospital’s records, and no one had identified any human trafficking victims at any point last year. Not one. We were definitely getting victims, but we weren’t identifying them. There was a need and I was passionate about it.”

This passion led to Danielle creating an innovative screening protocol that flags patients that might be victims of human trafficking, and a program that has trained nurses, physicians, law enforcement, and other staff to be better prepared for encountering and assisting victims.

The location of Danielle’s university and hospital might have also been inspiration. According to National Human Trafficking Hotline statistics, Michigan is 6th in the country for reported human trafficking cases. The state’s position between the United States and Canada and its connectivity to major highways and ports of entry means more opportunities for Michigan healthcare workers to come in contact with human trafficking victims.

“The consistent high call volume is also because Michigan is doing a great job of educating victims that they are victims,” Danielle explains. “Trafficking is still a relatively new term and people are just starting to understand what it means, that ‘I’m not a criminal I’m a victim’.”

The key to Danielle’s screening protocol is collaboration between nurses and physicians to flag patients who might be in danger of human trafficking. Her program includes formal education for staff that trains them on how to identify signs of abuse, such as inconsistent stories, a lack of money or identification, if they appear anxious or afraid, and if the person they are with is refusing to let them answer questions or is answering for them. Once a victim is identified, nurses operate with caution to keep the patient safe and empower victims with the tools they need to be helped out of their situation.

And on the first night the protocol was implemented in December 2017 at her hospital, a victim was identified.

“There are only a few times at work I have gotten emotional,” she said. “That night I cried. A big moment for me was when we identified a victim who was actually a minor and helped them get to foster care. With human trafficking there are moments you are sad with the situation, but also happy that they have been helped.”

Danielle’s solution has been highlighted by news outlets such as Fox 2 News Detroit and Danielle says she can’t keep up with emails from nurses and institutions across the country eager for her to bring her program, “Identification and Treatment of Victims of Human Trafficking in the Clinical Setting”, to their teams. Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the program is the confidence it can give nurses to effectively identify victims. According to Danielle, many nurses talk themselves out of reporting. After participating in the human trafficking screening program, nurses reported an increase in their screening knowledge and assessment capabilities.

"Littlest ideas can have the most momentum,” said Danielle. “This protocol empowers nurses to take a second look at patients, and that can make all the difference."

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 40.3 million victims of human trafficking globally. Pioneering solutions, such as Danielle’s screening tool, can help create better health outcomes for victims not just in Michigan, but around the world. Danielle’s innovative screening protocol helped to identify 18 victims of human trafficking last year at her hospital, of which 4 were minors. Danielle is currently working with over 50 hospitals to help implement her program in their emergency rooms and hopes programs like hers can expand to other hospitals and health centers across the country.

If you suspect someone might be a victim of human trafficking, please call police or the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.

[1] Schwarz, C., Unruh, E., Cronin, K., Evans-Simpson, S., Britton, H., & Ramaswamy, M. (2016). Human Trafficking Identification and Service Provision in the Medical and Social Service Sectors. Health and human rights, 18(1), 181-192. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5070690/

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