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Frontline health staff to help spot signs of human trafficking

September 13, 2012 12:57 PM

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NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has launched new guidance for staff which aims to help and encourage them to identify potential victims of human trafficking and make them safe.

Welcoming the new guidance, NHSGG Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Sharon Doherty, who provides mental health care to asylum seekers, refugees and trafficked people, said:  “Trafficked men and women can be trapped in sexual slavery and forced labour or domestic servitude here in Glasgow, in some cases held captive for many years in a locked single room. Anything health staff can do to identify victims of trafficking and make it difficult for traffickers to use the UK as a destination is vital.”

The new guidance is designed to offer support and practical help to health professionals who have concerns about how a patient has been brought into the country or how they may be being used by gangs or individuals once here.  

Dr Doherty added:  “Trafficking does exist in Glasgow and traffickers have been able to use the fact that health professionals and other agencies may not be fully aware of the issue.

“In some cases people are being held captive for many years in a locked room or house. Others may have some freedom but are still under the control of traffickers.  It is akin to slavery.  By increasing awareness amongst health staff about this issue, I think it will make it increasingly difficult for traffickers to use the UK as a destination.”

NHSGGC Director of Corporate Planning and Policy, Catriona Renfrew, said:  “Human trafficking is a very real problem in the west of Scotland with gangs or individuals tricking men and women to enter this country with false promises of work, only to end up as modern day slaves, or coercing them into prostitution.

 “Trafficking exists in Scotland and contact with a health worker may be the one chance for a trafficked person to get help and protection.

“This is a cruel trade in human lives and staff can play an important role by picking up on injuries or behaviour and help people contact the police or other appropriate authorities and services.”

Any combination of a number of factors could indicate that a person has been trafficked.  This includes injuries from assault or scars, signs of rape or sexual abuse, or post-traumatic stress or psychological disorders.

The patient maybe from a migrant community, accompanied by a “minder” who they defer to and who speaks for them and they also may have their passport or documents held by someone else.

People who are trafficked may show signs of emotional and physical abuse, while others may have untreated medical conditions.

The person may appear nervous, give short answers to questions, be unwilling to volunteer information and may also be vague about their links to the “relative” they are staying with.

If any member of staff suspects that their patient has been trafficked, the new guidance gives clear advice on what steps should be taken and which agencies, including the police, should be contacted. 

Dr Doherty added:  “Health staff should try to make the most of an appointment, as they would when there is a background of suspected domestic abuse.

“Staff should always use a contracted interpreter rather than a “family” member and interview the patient alone, indicating that this is normal practice.  They should also find out as much as possible about the patient’s living circumstances but without putting pressure on the patient to disclose, because this could put them at further risk of harm.

“If staff have the courage to raise questions in their minds about the situation their patient may be in, this might make the world of different to the person sitting in front of them.”

For more information contact the press office, tel:  0141 201 4429 or email:  [email protected]

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Last Updated: 06 February 2015