It has become overwhelmingly clear that the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every sector of life, including human trafficking. One of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a transformation to the role that healthcare providers play in the lives of human trafficking victims. Before the pandemic, victims of human trafficking might be able to seek medical attention, in-person, often with the permission of the traffickers and accompanied by them. With social distancing orders in place and the fear of contracting COVID-19 in hospitals, our society has seen a momentous increase in the utilization of “telehealth.” Telehealth, or the use of virtual “visits” by phone, tablet, or computer with a health care provider has become prominent in the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented.
The shift to telehealth has presented both benefits and disadvantages to victims of human trafficking. One of the cons of telehealth is that healthcare providers are unable to determine if traffickers are present throughout the consultation. With quarantine orders in place, human trafficking victims find themselves isolated with their traffickers more often. This confinement leads to restricted access to medical attention and mental health consultations for fear of being caught and punished by their abusers. Is it possible for healthcare providers to ensure that traffickers are not listening in on virtual consultations? It is difficult to tell, yet it is of utmost importance that healthcare providers implement safety measures for productive medical examinations.
These safety precautions are part of the pros of telehealth, as healthcare providers can utilize certain methods to ensure safety. These methods involve reassuring the patient that confidentiality rules will remain intact and asking the patient if they are in an area where they are able to speak openly. Also, the healthcare professional can be focused on patient needs and what has brought them to seek help. In this way, healthcare provider begins to build trust with the patient, and the patient is able to vocalize their feelings. At all times, the healthcare provider is able to determine if it is safe to conduct the consultation. The pros of telehealth, additionally, revolve around the general expansiveness of telehealth. Human trafficking victims that were unable to attend in-person examinations now have the option of appearing virtually for assistance. This new, innovative way of seeking medical attention allows human trafficking victims to find help in an easier manner.
As a society facing the hardships of the recent pandemic, we must continue to adapt and spread awareness of the link between COVID-19, human trafficking, and both the hurdles and benefits that victims face when seeking medical treatment in the world of telehealth.
For more information on the impact of COVID-19 on human trafficking see https://surviveandthriveadvocacy.org/covid-19-and-human-trafficking/ and for more info regarding the healthcare setting, see: https://healtrafficking.org/covid-19-resources-2/.
Submitted by: Alejandra, Gancedo, Juris Doctorate Candidate, Class of 2022, Florida State University College of Law
STAC wishes to thank Ms. Gancedo for this blog post and for her interest in this topic, and to express our gratitude to her professor, Darby Kerrigan Scott who directs the Immigration and Farmworker Project within the Public Interest Law Center, FSU College of Law for inviting STAC to present on the topic of human trafficking to her students.