[3/21/17] Dr. A rolled his eyes.
It was last October, and he had just come across a triage note that said, “I have a tracker in me.”
Dr. A — we’re not using his name or identifying his hospital, which is in a major American city, to protect patient safety — is 28 years old, a resident and about as green as they come.
And he’s got a patient who claims she’s got a GPS tracking device implanted in her side.
“When you work on the east side of our hospital, psychiatric patients are a dime a dozen,” he said.
But this patient is different. She’s put together. She’s lucid. She’s got an incision.
A group crowded around the computer to see her x-ray.
“Embedded in the right side of her flank is a small metallic object only a little bit larger than a grain of rice,” he said. “But it’s there. It’s unequivocally there. She has a tracker in her. And no one was speaking for like five seconds — and in a busy ER that’s saying something.”
It turns out this 20-something woman was being pimped out by her boyfriend, forced to sell herself for sex and hand him the money.
“It was a small glass capsule with a little almost like a circuit board inside of it,” he said. “It’s an RFID chip. It’s used to tag cats and dogs. And someone had tagged her like an animal, like she was somebody’s pet that they owned.”
This is human trafficking. It’s a marginal issue here in the U.S. for most of us. Part of that is because the average person isn’t sure what human trafficking – or modern day slavery – actually means.
“Very plainly, human trafficking is when one person takes advantage of another person for some profit,” said Katherine Chon, director of the newly created Office on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Trafficking can mean being locked in a room, having an RFID chip injected under your skin, or something like your employer holding your passport. It’s found in industries from prostitution to manufacturing to domestic service.
“I can guarantee you that I’ve placed my hands and I’ve examined and I’ve spoken to more trafficking victims than I know I have,” said Wendy Macias, an ER doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Macias is one of the nation’s leading advocates to get doctors, nurses and hospital executives involved.
One report finds as many as 88 percent of sex trafficking victims end up in ERs and clinics at some point while being held.
Much different than law enforcement, healthcare providers get these moments — a sort of a privileged access into the lives of people who often are out of reach