PITTSBURG — It takes a community.

It takes a community to help victims of human trafficking, Via Christi Human Trafficking Response Program Manager Nicole Ensminger said during a conference on “Human Trafficking and its Intersections with Pornography and the Internet” Saturday at Pittsburg State University’s McPherson Hall.

“Today we are talking about what the stigma really is and a look behind the scenes of what really goes on,” she said. “We shouldn’t look at them as criminals, but as survivors, warriors.”

Via Christi Hospital, in conjunction with Pittsburg State University Irene Ransom Bradley School of Nursing, the University of Kansas Medical Center Office of Continuing Medical Education and the University of Kansas Medical Center Area Health Education Center East and sponsor Pittsburg, Kansas Rotary Club hosted the event.

The conference was open to healthcare providers and professionals, behavioral health professionals, pastors and youth leaders, law enforcement, staff of service agencies, educators and concerned community members. The conference also served as a course for continuing educations credit for physicians, APRNS/Nurses and social workers.

Service care providers, such as Via Christi Hospital, Ascension, are among the first to identify victims of human trafficking.

Via Christi Wichita started creating the Human Trafficking Response Program in 2013 which provides knowledge to healthcare professionals on identifying and responding to potential human trafficking.

Ensminger said the program had a lot of “pushback” because people did not recognize human trafficking as an issue in the area. However, seven people were identified as being trafficked in the first year of implementing the program.

Since then, almost 90 people have been identified as victims of human trafficking.

“We had not identified anybody within our hospitals that have been trafficked, so why would we want to spend all this time and resources when we haven’t seen anyone who has been trafficked?” Ensminger said. “That’s why — because we are not seeing them — we need this education.

Two years ago the structure and foundation for the program was created at Via Christi Hospital Pittsburg, Ensminger said.

“It was the same case, we hadn’t identified anybody that had been trafficked before we started,” she said. “In the last year and a half, we have identified eight.”

Ensminger said the program brought awareness to the Via Christi hospitals.

The Human Trafficking Response Program includes a task force, training and education, collaboration with resources and other services, leadership in Ascension ministries, actions plans and assessment tools and protocols.

The task force includes members from forensic nursing, senior leadership, clinical care, physicians, behavioral health, case management, education, communication and the legal department.

Ensminger said victims need holistic care, programs which treat physical and mental health, as well as other community services to help get victims back on their feet. They need access to detox if they have an addiction and they also need shelter.

“It’s not enough to identify that someone has been trafficked but we must offer resources and walk alongside people through this journey,” Ensminger said.

Via Christi Hospital Chaplain Adah Hutchcraft and Ensminger both agreed that a good rapport is necessary to build with human trafficking victims because some may not be “ready” to escape and will need someone they can trust when they are ready.

Human trafficking:  Sex trafficking and labor trafficking

According Ensminger and Hutchcraft’s presentation, sex trafficking is “one of the world’s most horrific and lucrative crimes, robbing millions of people of their dignity in order to make a profit.”

It’s a “multi-billion dollar industry,” they said.

Human trafficking is a “form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or labor services,” according the the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

Sex trafficking victims are often found at residential brothels, fake massage businesses, strip clubs and in street prostitution.

Human trafficking also includes labor trafficking.

“A lot of people think of sweatshops, but you also find it in massage parlors, people in drug circles being forced to clean and cook and are moved from place to place,” Hutchcraft said. “Anybody who is being kept in order to provide any kind service.”

Hutchcraft said there are “certain elements” which put southeast Kansas at high risk for human trafficking.

These “elements” include — nearby highways, casinos, children in and out of foster care, a homeless population, drug problems, truck stops, strip clubs, college towns and nearby military bases.

According to Hutchcraft and Ensminger’s presentation people of any age, ethnicity and gender can be a victim of human trafficking. The traffickers are often immediate family members, boyfriends, friends of family, employers and strangers.  

Human trafficking, pornography and the internet

Director of Outreach Andrea Graver and Unlock Freedom Trauma-Informed Training Specialist Brittany Oelze presented “Pornography and the Connections to Human Trafficking.”  

“Technology has changed everything,” Graver said.

There was an increase of child porn in 2005- 2011 when the smartphone made its debut, giving “instant access” to free porn. Along with the increase in child porn there was an increase in people being exploited sexually, Graver said.

Advertising and recruitment are easily promoted through the internet, Graver said. The advertisements can be found in gaming sites and phone applications.

Graver and Oelze said pornbots are being used to target teen consumers earlier and earlier. They said the bots create popup advertisements and “just with a click of a button,” curious teens are subjected to the content.

“Exposure at a young age creates the visceral reaction that the pornographers are searching for,” Graver said.

There is a sense of normality of watching pornography, by creating consumers at such an early age, Graver and Oelze said. They said it could lead the teens and children to mimic the behavior, potentially harming another child or having sexual dysfunction in relationships.

Red Flags and Indicators

Sings of physical trauma

Branding tattoos

Malnutrition, Dehydration

There are more indicators and red flags, however, most would be seen under the care of a health provider. For example, multiple sexually transmitted infections or multiple abortions. 

Methods of conditioning and control

Starvation

Confinement

Beatings

Torture

Rape

Threats of violence to family members

Forced drug usage

Fear of law enforcement

What you can do

Educate yourself and others

Be mindful of what you purchase

Volunteer/Mentor

Encourage education and a response plan to be implemented where you serve

People may contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or text 233733

— Stephanie Potter is a staff writer at the Morning Sun. She can be emailed at spotter@morningsun.net or follow her on Twitter @PittStephP and Instagram @stephanie_morningsun.