According to the Polaris Project, 40.3 million individuals across the globe are trapped in human trafficking. This includes both labor trafficking and sex trafficking, where individuals are trapped by force, fraud or coercion. The International Labor Organization estimates that 4.8 million people are trapped in forced sexual exploitation in our world. This is not just a travesty happening in other countries. It happens every day here in the US as well. Large events like the Super Bowl are known to bring in exploited victims by the droves because of the increased demand for sexual encounters for pay.
Cedar Rapids is centrally located in our country. Furthermore, it is right by I-80, 380, and Highway 30 and between Omaha, Chicago, the Twin Cities and St. Louis. Unfortunately, many trafficking victims are right here among us. Human trafficking is a rapidly growing industry both because demand is growing and because, unlike drugs which are a one-time use, victims can be repeatedly sold. Polaris Project reports that 75% of the victims are women, and teen runaways are a specifically targeted group.
Victims of sex trafficking can go days without food, lack medical attention, get very little rest, live in fear of physical abuse, and are often forced to take drugs or drink heavy amounts of alcohol. They are stripped of having control over their own lives, and important things like social security cards, phones, and IDs are held by the traffickers.
Mercy Hospital was the first hospital in Iowa to hire an Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator. A local non-profit, Chains Interrupted, works to educate the community about trafficking. Our staff received training on how to identify victims of sex trafficking as well as what steps we can take if a victim comes through our doors. Being a free clinic, it is possible that we could see victims because we do not require insurance or charge for services. While traffickers are not likely to allow victims to access medical care for preventative or chronic conditions, if a medical issues arises that could impact her (or his) ability to work for payment, they may be allowed to see a medical professional.
His Hands has served patients both that have successfully escaped trafficking and are rebuilding their lives as well as victims who are still stuck in slavery. The evils of selling one person to another for a profit, to treat people like property and commodities is a topic that absolutely breaks the heart. However, very unfortunately, it is the reality of the world we live in. While it is such a difficult and heavy topic, we are glad to be a safe place at His Hands. We offer the medical treatment and support victims so desperately need, and create an environment for victims to feel safe talking.