Mercy Medical Center of Cedar Rapids has added the first hospital-based position to combat human trafficking in the state.
"It’s in every city. It’s in every town. It’s in every state," Teresa Davidson, a nurse practitioner at Mercy, said. Davidson works in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She also created Chains Interrupted, a non-profit to combat human trafficking, and where she’s created a survivor support group.
Adding to her titles, Davidson is now the hospitals anti-human trafficking coordinator, the first hospital-based position to be added in the state. Davidson said human trafficking is hard to put a face to.
"Human trafficking is a very complex issue and it’s very diverse. People often ask me, ‘Well, what does it look like?’ The problem is, it looks like 25 different types," she said.
Through her role, she and the hospital hope to identify patients that are victims.
"A recent study came out that showed up to 88% of survivors, that they actually received some sort of healthcare during their time of captivity and no one asked. No one identified them as a victim of human trafficking and so no one got any help, and for some of those survivors, it was their only chance," Davidson said.
The position is to help current human trafficking victims, but it also helps past victims and shows how to give them care.
"There were two instances in particular where I encountered health care professionals where I felt could have made a difference," Amber Causey says. It took Causey a long time to see herself as a victim. As a minor, she escaped a life where she was a prostitute. It’s a trauma she still deals with and that can make seeing a healthcare provider a harder experience.
"You have to be mindful. You never know what kind of past somebody is coming from. A lot of us just have to pick up the pieces and keep moving on. We never get to deal with the traumas that we face," Causey said.
Davidson will be in charge of putting protocols in place in dealing with survivor trauma. That includes creating a response team to help victims and to build trust with them.
"We’ll have the ability in trainings to identify what a victim would look like, help those victims self-identify, have a response team that can walk with them," she said. "It’s a delicate balance here to walk with someone who’s been betrayed by absolutely everyone in their life."
Causey said that will show victims that the hospital can be a safe haven for them to get help, without judgment.
"It’s going to create that repertoire to let them know you finally have somebody you can trust," she said. "So, that when that person, that nurse, that you now know you can trust, because she stood by you. [You can say] bring that police officer in here. You feel like, ‘Okay, I’m okay now, because I’m with this person,’ and we don’t have that."
Davidson will also be working with other hospitals to provide training on how they can implement similar programs.
She said the first hospital in the country to introduce a similar position previously never identified any sex trafficking survivors. After the first year, she said, the hospital was able to help over 80 victims.
If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-888-373-7888 to speak with a specially trained Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocate. Support is provided in more than 200 languages.