Human trafficking is a $150 billion-a-year industry.

It is a rapidly growing social justice and public health issue – and it’s happening in all our communities, including downtown Los Angeles where many of us live and work.

Human trafficking remains hidden in plain sight even among the excitement and bright lights that surround Dignity Health-California Hospital Medical Center (CHMC).

Did you know that Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department officials announced last July that 13 girls and young women, including a 15-year-old, were rescued as part of one of the largest sex trafficking rings on the West Coast?

Investigators found apartment units being rented and used as brothels in more than a dozen communities, including Chatsworth, Burbank, West Hollywood and Las Vegas.

That was some months after Los Angeles sheriff’s officials announced that dozens of women and children were rescued in a human trafficking sweep in California that ended with the arrest of 474 individuals.

The National Human Trafficking Hotline reports that California has the highest number of reported human trafficking victims.

I am sure that human trafficking victims walk through the doors of California Hospital Medical Center for medical treatment. As president of CHMC, and as a mother myself, this is extremely troubling, to say the least.

Unfortunately, trafficked persons often go unnoticed, even when they are seeking medical treatment. A 2017 survey by the Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking found that more than half of labor and sex trafficking survivors had accessed health care at least once while being trafficked.

Nearly 97 percent indicated they had never been provided with information or resources about human trafficking while visiting a health care provider. These studies underscore the reality that medical care providers are often unprepared to identify and appropriately respond to trafficked persons. 

As one of the nation’s largest health systems, Dignity Health has taken a leadership role to ensure that victims can be identified if they visit a hospital and receive victim-centered and trauma-informed care. The truth is that everyone has a role to play in combating human trafficking. Our staff is trained to identify potential victims and to provide care and assistance to these victims in the safest and most effective way possible.

If you believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, call the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888. You can also learn more about Dignity Health’s efforts at dignityhealth.org/human-trafficking-response.

This crime must be stopped, and we must come together to help end this form of modern-day slavery.

Margaret R. Peterson, PhD, is president of Dignity Health – California Hospital Medical Center.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.