Human trafficking awareness with Jessica Peck, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, FAANP, FAAN


A discussion of human trafficking awareness and what primary care providers can do to spot red flags and implement evidence-based knowledge.

Jessica Peck, DNP, APRN, CPNP-PC, CNE, CNL, FAANP, FAAN, discussed human trafficking awareness with Contemporary Pediatrics, and highlighted common myths and advised the implementation of evidence-based knowledge when it comes to trafficking among children, adolescents, and teenagers.



Hi. My name is Jessica Peck. I'm a clinical professor at Baylor University. As a pediatric nurse practitioner, as a professor, and a mom of 4 and a leader in a pediatric nursing organization, I really felt like I had my finger on the pulse of what was going on with kids. But about a decade ago, a community organization approached me to write education about trafficking, and I said "absolutely not" I don't know anything about trafficking. But once I learned about what was going on in our community, I had to apologize for asking them the wrong question. I said, "How can I help you?" And really, the question was, "How can I not help you," now knowing what I know, and knowing what I know, as a pediatric expert, and advocate, so that really took my career at left hand turn. And I brought that information to the state of Texas where I live, we created some legislation there and a statewide education program. Then we brought that to NAPNAP and we created the Alliance for Children in Trafficking.

We've been extraordinarily impactful, we've collaborated with the United States Department of Health and Human Services, to create a set of core competencies for health care systems across the country to be able to respond to trafficking because it is happening every where. People who are trafficked especially children, do present across the care continuum, but our estimates are that between 60% and 87% of people who are trafficked encounter a health care provider without being identified. We wonder how is that, because health care providers are highly educated, we're compassionate, we want to care for everyone, but what I realized is that we are subject to the bias of the media, how it presents trafficking to us.

So some of those common narratives are that trafficking is only sex trafficking, and it's only happening to females, and they need to be rescued, when the truth is far more complex than that. Parents are generally very worried about their children being kidnapped off the street and sold to a trafficker. That is far from the way that it usually happens. Trafficking is moving from the street to the smartphone. So the truth is, it's uncomfortable, but parents should be much more afraid of the thousands of strangers that children invite into their bedrooms every single night through social media, rather than a stranger in a parking lot, because that's what's happening. All children are vulnerable in some way to being groomed by a trafficker. They're susceptible to deception.

So this is something that we as pediatric healthcare providers who are very trusted by families, we need to empower them to talk to their kids about this in a way that's developmentally appropriate, positions the parent as the expert, and empowers them to respond if they should see at risk of trafficking happening among their peers or to themselves.

Contemporary Pediatrics:

What are some red flags providers can look out for that could help identify trafficking?


We don't yet have a universal screening tool that's applicable for everywhere. So we know that the evidence tells us that trauma informed care with evidence-based questioning is the best way to elicit risk factors. So some of those risk factors and red flags that you would look for us we know actually, that the number one predictor of entering sex trafficking is experiencing sexual abuse as a child and as pediatric care providers we know that that happens. But there's also labor trafficking that's much more prevalent than sex trafficking. So we see a lot of combined risk factors. There are financial stressors that may make families more prevalent to go into trafficking or to enter a trafficking situation and we're seeing a rise in familial trafficking, where latest estimates from the US government say up 37% of cases could be families trafficking their own children. So red flags that you look for are just acting different behaviors, mental health presentations, suicidality, having different groups of friends, because that's what traffickers will do try to isolate them from their friends. All of a sudden having expensive gifts or having a cell phone given to you by a friend. Those kinds of things are things that should raise red flags and prompt more questioning from a provider.

It's so important for every pediatric care provider to have evidence-based training, there is a lot of well-intentioned but ill-informed training that is not based on evidence. As a scientific profession, it's really important for us to be a trusted voice and to know the facts, what trafficking is what it is not, and also to be empowered to know what to do about it. Anyone at any time could encounter a trafficking situation, it's much like an active shooter situation. We don't want to think about that, no one ever wants to encounter that, but if you've never thought about it before, and you're trying to decide what to do in the moment, your patient is not safe, you are not safe, the other patients in your practice are not safe. It's just not a good situation for anyone. So, I would encourage providers to get evidence-based training and to have a protocol in place and they can do that by looking at the core competencies that NAPNAP co-published with the United States Department of Health and Human Services.

For more NAPNAP coverage, click here.

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