For years, hospitals have been training their staffs to look for indicators of physical, mental, sexual and drug abuse, as well as evidence of self-harm.
Now, one hospital is taking the lead on training health care professionals to look for warning signs of something that may combine all of the above: being a victim of human trafficking.
Diana Starace, the injury prevention coordinator for Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, made it her mission to become heavily involved in ramping up awareness in Middlesex County two years ago.
After being introduced to the prevalence of human trafficking and becoming aware of how many trafficking ring busts occurred in the state, Starace began holding a series of programs on the issue, beginning in October 2014.
The next event will take place Nov. 3, with a screening of the docudrama “Sold” at the AMC Loews in New Brunswick.
Based on the three previous programs, Starace is confident in predicting the impact the event will have on attendees.
“I know many health care providers, nurses, physicians and residents, and our medical students, who walk away in just utter amazement that this is happening and they didn’t know,” Starace said.
And many, she said, wonder how many victims they missed the signs for in the past.
Starace said the focus has been different for each program.
The first one was just the basics, simple facts about human trafficking. Each subsequent program has been more geared toward health care professionals in RWJUH and around Middlesex County.
Though there have been repeat attendees, Starace said the forums have attracted a crowd of more than 150 new individuals every time.
Starace said she hopes the programs are just a start.
“It’s happening in our backyards.”
Diana Starace, injury prevention coordinator, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, New Brunswick
In addition to the awareness and resources, provided in partnership with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey and New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking, Starace is hoping to create a better platform for medical professionals.
Her department mostly focuses on children and preventing accidents. That means going over safety rules like looking both ways before crossing, helmet safety or water safety, she said. While the hospital has been supportive on the focus and education of issues like that, there has never been a comprehensive tool to help educate the staff on human trafficking, Starace said.
Especially in such a diverse community like Middlesex County.
“When you have more new folks, who are new to this country — obviously, we certainly do — there are more opportunities for that to happen because it’s a more vulnerable population,” Starace said.
So Starace has taken the lead, borrowing from the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is hoping to create a webinar for all hospital staff to be able to access across the RWJBarnabas Health system.
The goal, Starace said, is for the committee currently in charge of putting on the events to work with Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey and create a PowerPoint presentation, get approval by all the powers that be and roll it out systemwide by the end of 2017.
Starace said one of her goals is to make sure human trafficking remains top of mind.
In the past, she said, major events, such as when the Super Bowl came to New Jersey in 2014, brought the issue to light. But only temporarily, she said.
“Big events like that where people come from all over to our state to see the Super Bowl, that is a venue for human trafficking,” she said. “So there were a lot of commercials and community awareness raising. But after the Super Bowl, the hype about it died down.”
The problem, she said, has not.
“It’s happening in our backyards,” Starace said. “If you Google human trafficking in New Jersey, the first thing that comes up are the agencies. And article after article of people being busted.
“Let’s make this the end of the road.”
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