Dignity Healthcare implements program for staff to help crack down on human trafficking

PHOENIX (KSAZ) -- One may not know that Phoenix is one of the nation's worst areas when it comes to human trafficking. Now, a local hospital system is hoping to pull more victims off the streets, and crack down on this epidemic.

On Monday, one human trafficking survivor who was trafficked when she was only 13, and was impregnated by her trafficker when she was 14, talked about how she was sucked into this lifestyle because she thought it was her only option.

"Coerced into the life, didn't understand what I was walking into," said Shanna Parker, founder of Angels Go To Work. "Didn't have any resources, didn't have family structure to fall back on, and this guy was family to me."

With no family to turn to, Parker says she once looked for love and protection somewhere else.

"I had a child with him. I got pregnant at 14 and had a child, so I envisioned this life together forever, just like everyone else did," said Parker.

Soon, however, things took a turn.

"He was extremely vicious, and would often beat you until you were unconscious," said Parker.

Then, things got even worse.

"There were two other women who were trafficked with me for all of those years, and when I was 18 years old, he murdered one of the women," said Parker.

That was how Parker's life with her trafficker ended, not because she was saved, but through a double murder trial.

"A lot of professionals still don't yet understand what human trafficking really means," said Parker.

One study shows 88% of human trafficking victims usually encounter a healthcare professional but weren't properly identified.

"Whether a healthcare system is prepared or not, victims and survivors are encountering healthcare professionals," said Parker.

So, Dignity Healthcare says they want to educate their staff about human trafficking, and how to respond appropriately to the signs and symptoms.

"Human trafficking often overlaps with other forms of violence, so if you're caring for a patient who you think may be a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault or child abuse, or elder abuse, it should be a consideration that human trafficking could be a factor as well," said Holly Gibbs with Dignity Health Human Trafficking Response Program.

This training program is taking place at 40 Dignity Health Hospitals across three states, including Arizona. Some signs these healthcare professionals are being trained to look out for are frequent teenage runaways showing up with suspiciously expensive items, an underaged girl having an older controlling boyfriend, and if they're using some sort of slang language.