Health care providers urged to look for signs of sex trafficking

    Pennsylvania legislators just approved tougher laws around sex trafficking in which people are forced into prostitution, and often moved across the country. Victims are often lured in from other countries, but this affects U.S. citizens as well.

    A doctor at Jefferson University Hospital wants health care providers to be more aware of warning signs that a patient might be a victim of sex trafficking.

    As a medical student, Dr. Kanani Titchen saw a young patient in the operating room that stuck with her. “She was unconscious, and some of us noticed some tattooing, in her groin, that was indicative that her body was for sale,” recalled Titchen, who is training to be a pediatrician.

    Looking back, Titchen said she missed an important opportunity to reach out to the patient after her surgery — and to provide resources to a potential victim of sex trafficking.

    Titchen has since spent much time investigating sex trafficking, finding that it affects about 100,000 American children each year, and teen runaways are at especially high risk. She is raising money to launch an awareness campaign, to make sure health care providers recognize warning signs as such head or face injuries or certain tattoos.

    Fear is another red flag, she said.

    “They frequently are accompanied by an adult who refuses to leave the room, or does all the talking for them,” Titchen said.

    She also wants to make sure health care providers are connected to resources, so that they can swiftly connect a victim to help.

    “If I come across a child who has been trafficked, who admits to me that, ‘Yes, that person outside is not actually my daddy, that’s my boss,’ she said. “What do I do with this information? Where do I go? How do I help this child?”

    Having to go to the ER or a health clinic can be a one-time chance for a victim to get away from their trafficker, she said.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.