Sex trafficking (ST) victims have unique medical and mental health needs and are often difficult to identify. Our objectives were to evaluate knowledge gaps and training needs of medical providers, to demonstrate the importance of provider training to meet the pediatric ST victim’s specific needs, and to highlight barriers to the identification of and response to victims.
A survey was sent to providers in specialties that would be most likely to encounter victims of ST. Participants included physicians, nurses, physician assistants, social workers, and patient and family advocates at multiple hospitals and medical clinics in urban, suburban, and rural locations.
Of ∼500 survey recipients, 168 participants responded. In 2 clinical vignettes, 48% correctly classified a minor as an ST victim, and 42% correctly distinguished an ST victim from a child abuse victim. In all, 63% of respondents said that they had never received training on how to identify ST victims. Those with training were more likely to report ST as a major problem locally (P ≤ .001), to have encountered a victim in their practice (P ≤ .001), and to have greater confidence in their ability to identify victims (P ≤ .001). The greatest barriers to identification of victims reported were a lack of training (34%) and awareness (22%) of ST.
Health care providers demonstrate gaps in knowledge and awareness of ST, specifically of pediatric victims, that correlate with their limited experience and training. Training is crucial to improve identification of these victims and provide appropriate care for their specific needs.