Recently, I released two articles on NurseTogether, an online community for nursing professionals, the previous articles specifically were addressing the nursing professional’s role in combating human trafficking. This week our focus shifts toward a specific type of trafficking called: Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST). Not only should nursing professionals have an understanding of DMST, but nursing students and nursing educators/ instructors should also be familiar with this topic.
Shared Hope International defines Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) as “the commercial sexual exploitation of American children within the U.S. borders.” In “The National Report on Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking: America’s Prostituted Children” conducted by Linda A. Smith, Samantha Healy Vardaman, and Melissa Snow in May 2009, gives a comprehensive, insider’s view of DMST and its prevalence throughout the United States. The report was compiled by Shared Hope International, after it gathered field research data on domestic minor sex trafficking in the U.S.
In the executive summary of the report Shared Hope International comprised states that, “DMST includes but is not limited to the commercial sexual exploitation of children through prostitution, pornography, and/or stripping. Experts estimate at least 100,000 American juveniles are victimized through prostitution in America each year.” (p. iv)
Shared Hope International lists warning signs which could indicate Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking (DMST) are:
- Travel with an older male
- Presence of an older, dominating boyfriend
- Multiple sexual transmitted diseases
- Tattoos or other branding marks
- Signs of violence; bruises, cuts, or burns
- Chronic runaway
- Previous sexual abuse
As nursing professionals, nursing educators, nursing students, and ultimately patient advocates it is our responsibility to not only be vigilant in our respective healthcare specialties’, but to also be aware of situations within our very own communities. Quite frequently victims of DMST come in contact with nursing professionals and other healthcare service providers at some point while they are being trafficked; yet they are often not identified as a domestic minor sex trafficking victim. In some cases the sexually exploited minor views their pimp as a close friend or family member or can refer to him as their boyfriend. The child sex trafficking victim may be very reluctant to confide or trust anyone out of fear from threats issued to them from the trafficker. The pimp/trafficker imposes psychological and manipulative control techniques to get the child to mentally become trapped in their situation. The pimp/trafficker also can use physical violence and torture to keep the child victim traumatized to the point which they fear the consequences of fleeing the situation. Therefore they choose to remain submissive, and follow the commands of their pimp/trafficker. The fear literally immobilizes them and paralyzes the child’s growth and development.
Linda Smith, Founder and President of Shared Hope International explains how, “These kids aren’t invisible, our social system sees them every day – the justice system, child welfare, child protection, people working on the streets, crisis pregnancy centers – we’re seeing them every day, we’re just misidentifying them and sending them down a wrong path so they don’t get the right services.”
It brings us back to the importance of nursing professionals knowing how to properly identify human trafficking victims. If a nurse suspects that a child patient under their care is a victim of domestic minor sex trafficking, then Shared Hope International recommends asking the following questions:
1. Have you ever left home without a parent or guardian knowing? If so, how many times?
2. How do you take care of yourself when you are away from home?
3. Do you have a boyfriend? How old is he? What are some things you enjoy doing together?
4. Ask about their tattoo(s) (if visible). When did you get it? What does it mean? Where did you get it?
5. How often do you see your friends? What do you enjoy doing with them?
If you suspect trafficking, please call:
National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC): 1-888-373-7888
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST