The key point to understand is the dental professional has a legal obligation to report SUSPECTED child abuse. The need to protect children supersedes all other concerns. You can be charged legally if you do not report suspected child abuse. Human trafficking of minors is child abuse and has to be reported when recognized, or when there is suspicion of trafficking. This is a public health issue.20
The first step is safety. If you suspect that the victim is in immediate need of help, have one of the staff members call 911 immediately without drawing too much attention to the situation. When an adult victim is suspected, the professional should try to speak with the person alone. Stating that radiographs are needed and that anyone accompanying the person cannot be in the radiology area due to possible radiation exposure is one way to get the victim alone. This may give the dental professional a clue to the relationship between the persons and anyone accompanying the victim. The office staff will also have time to put their trauma-informed plan of action into play. If the accompanying person is not agreeing to this suggestion, this may give the dental professional a clue of the relationship and could indicate control issues by the perpetrator. If the adult victim does not want to be reported and does not agree to self-reporting, the rights of the adult and decisions made by the person should be respected. When trust is established, the person may consider contacting authorities at a later date or returning to your healthcare facility.28 Also, providing information on national reporting sites such as the National Human Trafficking Hotline and the fact that the person can send a text to: HELP to BEFREE (233733) and receive assistance should be provided.
By having the entire office educated about human trafficking, specific protocol should be in place. Contacting the local authorities and knowing specific phone numbers is crucial. Using 911 and asking for the specific local people trained in human trafficking that you have already established contact with, will allow the best individuals to intervene. Suggesting that the police arrive in plain clothes without sirens promotes less chance of an over-reaction of all those involved.30
“Medical providers have a unique opportunity to come into contact and connect with those being exploited; therefore, it's vital they be aware of the dynamics of coercion and manipulation in trafficking. However, this does not mean they should necessarily be the crisis intervention response to remove someone from an exploitative situation. It is imperative that medical providers are aware of their LOCAL crisis response point of contact.”
Founder/Executive Director, The Formation Project
Survivor Advisory Board Chair, S.C.
Attorney General's Human Trafficking Task Force
Human trafficking identification in all dental facilities must involve a trauma-informed approach. This means that the facility should have a plan of action to follow with detailed duties should the occasion arise. All dental personnel are legally obligated and must be informed about the issues related to child abuse and trafficking victims for this plan of action to be successful. If your office is in the process of developing specific protocol for reporting a trafficking victim, the State Dental Association or Pedodontic Association may be helpful in providing forms and guidelines29 Most states have regulations on their site to provide assistance and reporting information to the reporter. Many state agencies have brochures and policy manuals to guide a person through this process. All states have varying regulations, and your office must know what those rules and regulations are for assisting the victims and reporting crimes.14
All dental personnel must know the existing protocol and services that are available to the local dental community. The connection with local and state agencies is essential, and specific laws related to reporting child abuse are in place for each state. All team members should be familiar with local and state requirements and reporting procedures. National reporting facilities are listed within this CE. The National Human Trafficking Hotline number is: 1-888-373-7888, text HELP to BEFREE (233733)
The state requirements and contact information will vary with each state. South Carolina, for instance, was recognized in 2018 for progress through Shared Hope International’s Protected Innocence. They were commended for not only recognizing human trafficking but for combatting human trafficking. Each state will have different reporting mechanisms and degrees of involvement.33-35 The Health and Human Services Training and Technical Assistance Center suggests the following steps to take: Establish Rapport with suspected victim, recognize red flags, screen for potential human trafficking, discuss the need to file a report and refer to resources (See Additional Resources).