Gov. Larry Hogan has made combating human trafficking a priority for his administration, and in Carroll County, Carroll Hospital has expanded its services in support of this goal.
In addition to adding a screening for human trafficking victims to other assessments conducted in the emergency department, the hospital will host a program on human trafficking on Wednesday, March 13. That program will run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Shauck Auditorium in the hospital’s East Pavilion, and will feature Steven Hess, a victim-witness manager with the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland.
“We realized that the governor himself had called this one of the most disgusting crimes in Maryland and we like to offer teachings, trainings, every six months and we just decided that the topic this time would be human trafficking,” said Tracy Yingling, a forensic nurse and coordinator of the hospital’s Forensic Nurse Examiner program. “We’ve had only a few instances where we’ve had patients who we knew were victims of trafficking, but we feel that as a whole we are missing many opportunities to identify these folks.”
Trafficking, as the hospital defines it, is “recruiting or obtaining a person by means of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of labor, or services or sexual exploitation,” according to Yingling, a broad definition that has some overlap with things the hospital was already doing.
“We had started a lethality assessment program at the hospital a number of years ago,” she said. “That was set up to identify victims who were at greatest risk of being injured or killed should they return to an intimate partner relationship.”
New hospital protocols follow a similar, question-based screening to determine if a person who has come to the hospital might be a victim of trafficking, according to Yingling.
“We have a resource for the emergency department that basically provides them with a lot of red flags to look for to help identify a human trafficking victim and if they see any of those red flags, they are to ask two screening questions,” she said. “If a positive comes from that, they call the forensic nurse and we respond directly to the hospital to ask additional screening lessons and determining what the victim wants.”
If the person does not want help, then the hospital will keep their information confidential and simply provide information they can use later, according to Yingling.
“If we are talking about a consenting age adult, we have to determine whether they want assistance or not. They may not feel they are in a place where they can get out of their situation right now,” she said. “If they decline any assistance we want them to know that Carroll is a safe place to come and that we can help them if they choose to in the future, so we offer them a resource card that we created, it’s very inconspicuous.”
If the person wants assistance, they can decide whether to involve law enforcement, and the hospital will only refer their case to police if asked, Yingling said, “as long as they are a consenting adult and don’t fall into the vulnerable adult categories or in fact are a minor.”
If the person would simply like help extricating themselves from a non-consensual situation, Yingling said, the hospital will refer them to Family and Children’s Services of Central Maryland for case management services
“Our partnership would allow us to have contact through our 24-hour hotline, with the hospital,” said Kelley Rainey, director of case management services for Family and Children’s Services. “If there was a potential person who has been a victim of trafficking, who wanted to leave their situation but had nowhere to go, what we would do is house them temporarily and then come up with a plan for more stabilized housing.”
Rainey met Yingling about a year ago and the two talked about the need to get ahead of any potential issues with human trafficking in Carroll County.
“I would say in the past year we’ve had one or two people we’ve been able to identify in Carroll County that were potential,” Rainey said.
What neither of them wanted, Rainey said, was to discover a victim who wanted help at 4 a.m. and not have the resources to help, “because once a victim of anything thinks that you don’t know what you’re doing, they typically go back to the person in charge, the abuser, the trafficker, whoever the manipulating party is.”
And while Family and Children’s Services and the hospital are ready to step in when needed, Rainey said the upcoming program will be a good opportunity for interested members of the community as well.
“The knowledge of what can occur in our community can only help us protect ourselves, protect our loved ones, protect our young adults,” she said. “It won’t be heavy on the clinical side. Clinicians will get something out of it but the community can also benefit from that knowledge.”
And for anyone who might need help now due to a trafficking situation or intimate partner violence, Family and Children’s Services maintains a local hotline.
“They can call our 24-our hotline, which is 443-865-8031, and that’s a Carroll County hotline, so it’s answered by people who work, and live in and understand Carroll County,” she said. “It’s answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week and if we cannot help you we will connect you with someone who can.”
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There is also a national human trafficking hotline at 888-373-7888.