Local nurses work to combat human trafficking with new training

Other employees in Baptist Health System to also be trained

By Tiffany Huertas - Video Journalist, Jennifer Galvan - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - Baptist Health System nurses are learning how to spot human trafficking signs.

There are two categories of human trafficking: sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Sometimes health care professionals are the first line of defense for victims of human trafficking.

Kristen Lemus, chief nurse executive for Baptist Health System, said that during the summer, the hospital provided a class for employees to ensure they are prepared to identify victims of human trafficking.

"We had a local expert here come in and train our nurses on just identifying, looking for clues when a patient presents in the (emergency department) or they present up on the floor," Lemus said.

"Some of the things that we look for that would be red flags for us are patients who come in for, like, pelvic pain, assault, wanting (a sexually transmitted disease) check. Those are some of the signs, any type of bruising on their body," said Stefani Bohmfalk, a registered nurse.

Lemus said the nurses learned how to look for signs from different viewpoints.

"What to look (for) from a nursing perspective but also what to look for as a parent," Lemus said. 

According to the United States Department of Homeland Security, here are other signs to look out for:

  • Bruises in various stages of healing caused by physical abuse

  • Scars, mutilations or infections due to improper medical care

  • Urinary difficulties, pregnancy

  • Disorientation, confusion, phobias or panic attacks caused by daily mental abuse, torture and culture shock

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in Texas, the number of human trafficking cases is rising. In 2016, there were 681 cases reported. In 2017, the number went up to 811 cases. Last year, there were 1,000 human trafficking cases reported.

Lemus said they will be training more employees in the upcoming months.

"Not only nursing but our techs, our physicians, everyone else (needs to be) educated as well because (victims) might not open up to a nurse, but they might open up to somebody else that's caring for them," Lemus said.

"Maybe we can offer help, but they may not accept it at that time. But if we can just even plant that seed and maybe, like, the next time, they come in, you know, they'll accept it. That's important to do, too," Bohmfalk said.

Where to report suspected human trafficking:

San Antonio Police Department Sex Crimes Unit: 210-207-2313

Federal Law Enforcement: 1-866-347-2423

National Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-888-373-7888

Or text HELP or INFO to BEFREE (2337733)

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