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Richmond University Medical Center Holds Human Trafficking Conference

April 18, 2019 – On April 17th, Richmond University Medical Center brought together experts on a subject that many are unaware happens even here on Staten Island: human trafficking. Over 100 people attended the conference held at the hospital. Presentations focused on how people fall prey to human and organ trafficking, signs of potential victims that medical staff should be aware of, and resources available to connect victims to organizations that can help.

 Organized by the hospital’s forensic nurse coordinator Richard Ortiz, the conference shed light on the fact that trafficking happens more frequently than many people believe. According to Stephanie Clemente, training and outreach manager for Safe Horizon’s anti-trafficking program, the most common victims are the poor, and small, often orphaned, children. Safe Horizon is the largest victim services non-profit organization in the United States, providing social services for victims of abuse and violent crime in 57 locations throughout the five boroughs of New York City. 

Similar to human trafficking, small children and the poor are the most common victims of organ trafficking. Dr. Bronwyn Holmes, pediatric resident at Richmond University Medical Center, said that the heart and lungs are the most sought after organs. Organ traffickers in China are known to offer upwards of $130,000 for a heart and traffickers in Singapore offer as much as $290,000 for a lung. The world’s largest organ markets are in India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Mexico, and Iran. Countries with the most imported organs through illegal trafficking are Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. 

Assistant District Attorney Euna Park representing Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, and William Mattarazzo from New York State Senator Andrew Lanza’s office also attended. Senator Lanza has authored several bills in Albany attempting to curb the human trafficking trade and increase vigilance throughout the state. 

To help attendees identify signs of possible trafficking and how to respond, the handout agenda included a screening tool. Taken from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the screening tool included questions that can be asked of a suspected victim of trafficking including: 

  • Sometimes lies are used to trick people into accepting a job that doesn’t exist and they get trapped in a job or situation they never wanted. Have you ever experienced this, or are you in a situation where you think this could happen? 
  • Sometimes people make efforts to repay a person who provided them with transportation, a place to stay, money, or something else they need. The person they owe may require them to do things if they have difficulty repaying the debt. Has this ever happened to you, or are you in a situation where you think this could happen? 
  • Sometimes people work for someone or spend time with someone who does not let them contact their family, spend time with their friends, or go where they want. Have you ever experienced this or are you in a situation where this could happen? 
  • Sometimes people are hurt or threatened, or threats are made to their family or loved ones, or they are forced to do things they do not want to do in order to make money for someone else, or repay a debt to them. Have you ever experienced this or are you in a situation where you think this could happen?

 While the conference was open to the public, the focus was on educating medical staff, especially in the emergency department, so that possible victims could be identified easily and connected with support services and law enforcement as quickly as possible. As was mentioned at the conference, often victims of human trafficking may come to the emergency department needing assistance but the condition or symptoms may not be easily recognizable as resulting from what is really happening to them.