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Meritus Forensic Nursing Program treats victims of human trafficking

January 16, 2024 - Meritus Story

A medical care provider possibly saved a young man from continuing in a life of human trafficking.

The man, who went to an outpatient provider in Hagerstown, indicated he was originally from Central America and had paperwork showing he’d been treated for a sexually transmitted disease in Florida.

“The provider was able to pick up that something was not right,” said Samantha Delauter, RN, FNE-A/P, a nurse with the Meritus Medical Center Forensic Nursing Program. “She asked if he had concerns about his own safety, and he responded, ‘yes.’”

January is National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, and the Washington County Anti-Human Trafficking Collaborative is hosting a seminar on the topic on Jan. 16 at Meritus Health.

The event, geared toward healthcare providers and others who might come in contact with human trafficking, will end with the pouring of red sand into cracks in the sidewalk. The practice symbolizes those human trafficking victims who aren’t able to get help.

In the case of the young man from Central America, he was referred to the Meritus Forensic Nursing Program. He said he had been physically, sexually and psychologically abused.

“He was able to share that he endured a lot of violence,” Delauter said.

A struggle to identify victims of human trafficking

The man was one of only 19 cases of human trafficking identified and treated at Meritus in 2023, said Forensic Nursing Program Manager Jennifer McNew, BSN, FNE-A/P.

Undoubtedly there are many more, she said, given Washington County is the intersection of two major interstates.

“They’re not being recognized,” McNew said of human trafficking victims.

A problem, McNew and Delauter said, is that human trafficking cases often don’t look like they do in movies and television. For example, they said they are aware of cases where parents trafficked their children from their house while maintaining a full-time job.

“It’s not like Hollywood,” McNew said. “It can be a seemingly normal family.”

It takes being able to identify certain patterns, Delauter said. For example, has a person sought medical care several times for specific ailments, such as pelvic pain? Has a child been acting out in school or missing days?

“You begin to identify certain risk factors,” she said.

Focus on getting victims help

In some instances, however, the case is clear. McNew in August joined the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Washington County Health Department and the Washington County Department of Social Services Child Advocacy Center for a sex trafficking sting.

McNew said she spoke to one of the victims, who was brought from Frederick to a Hagerstown area hotel. The woman’s trafficker was among those arrested, but the victim was provided with options for treatment as well as a care bag with hygiene products.

“A lot (of victims) don’t want help in that moment,” McNew said. “The focus is to get them help and let them know what their options are, rather than arrest.”

With that comes following up with victims, Delauter said. Typically, they are poor at following through with treatment plans.

“The biggest thing is ‘How?’” she said. “How are they going to get their medication? How are they going to get to the hospital? We put our foot in to help with that.”

McNew is not sure what happened to the victim caught up in the sting; she was supposed to receive treatment in Frederick County.

But the young man from Central America received help from the Washington County Human Trafficking Task Force regional coordinator. He also had help from family in Hagerstown and a local church.

“He was receptive to the services,” Delauter said.

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