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WMJ: Identifying pediatric sex trafficking victims is an issue in Wisconsin

Release Date: May 18, 2015
Contact: Jennifer Wieman - 608.442.3765 jennifer.wieman@wismed.org

MADISON (May 18, 2015)—Sex trafficking victims in Wisconsin have been identified in more than half of the state’s 72 counties since 2007, with the majority being recruited from rural areas. The state’s medical personnel, however, are at a disadvantage when it comes to identifying and caring for these victims, according to a study published in the current issue of WMJ.

Angela L. Rabbitt, DO, FAAP, the study’s author, cited several reasons why identifying victims of pediatric sex trafficking is often difficult: threats and coercion by the trafficker to the victim, the victim’s feelings of self-blame, past negative interactions with law enforcement or child protective services, the fear of prosecution or a lack of understanding that they are victims. Doctor Rabbitt is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Wisconsin, and a child abuse pediatrician and associate director of Child Advocacy and Protection Fellowship at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin.

“Victims have varied demographic characteristics,” Dr. Rabbitt wrote. “They come from broken and intact families, urban and rural areas, wealthy communities and high poverty areas. They may live at home, on the street or alternate between the two.”

According to the study, 77 child victims were identified in Milwaukee County between 2010 and 2012. Of the victims identified by law enforcement, 92 percent were female, 78 percent African American, 70 percent had been reported missing at least once, and 20 percent were brought into Milwaukee from rural Wisconsin communities. But those numbers only reflect those who came in contact with the Milwaukee Police Department. The percentage of boys or young men who are being trafficked also may be significantly higher.

To better identify and treat trafficking victims, Dr. Rabbitt and others have developed a list of screening questions based on other published guidelines such as the HEADSS (home, education, activities/employment, drugs, suicidality and sex) tool, as well as guidelines for the medical management of youth at risk for trafficking.

“Education of community partners and legislators by the medical community about the unique medical and mental health needs of the pediatric sex trafficking victims in Wisconsin could help optimize services and minimize health disparities for this population,” Dr. Rabbitt wrote. “However, improved education and awareness within the medical community itself is an important first step.”

Published by the Wisconsin Medical Society, WMJ is devoted to the interests of the medical profession and health care in the Midwest. This peer-reviewed publication, which is available in print and electronic format, is one of the few state medical society-sponsored medical journals that publish a large amount of original research and academic content.