Literatus: Health red flags in sex trafficking victims


WHILE the Philippines keeps its Tier 1 compliance with anti-human trafficking standards, it is still disheartening to read reports that it has not been consistent prosecuting and convicting human traffickers. Human trafficking is a direct affront to our dignity as human beings, degrading the humanity both of the victims and the perpetrators.

Perhaps, the more heinous form of human trafficking is sex trafficking. It transforms the human being into a commodity, sold for sexual abuse. It destroys and degrades the “image and likeness of God” in the human person. The National Human Trafficking Resource Center provided some indicators, which Filipino healthcare professionals can easily find in the ordinary course of their jobs.

The first indicator is underage (younger than 18 years old) work in the commercial sex industry. These workers may belong to underground brothels or licensed drinking joints that front for commercial sex services. The second indicator is the presence of some tattoo branding, which consists of phrases like “for sale,” “property of...”, or “Daddy.” This indicates that the person might have gone through a process of underground bidding, having been sold to his or her current “owner.”

Upon routine medical history interviews, the person reports a very high number of sexual partners. Oftentimes, he or she wears clothing that is grossly inappropriate for the venue (e.g. hospital) or the weather (e.g. skimpy dress in a cold season).

Last, the person has strong command of street language that is common in the commercial sex industry, often referring to “the life.” (ako’ng kinabuhi). This normalization of language is a strong indicator of deep involvement in this industry.

The women usually checks in the hospital emergency department for severe injuries (often with high frequency). They may also seek gynecological services (due to multiple or recurring sexually transmissible infections, vaginal or rectal trauma), prenatal care (if their contraception method failed), addiction treatment and mental health services (due to depression, anxiety or panic attacks, and high irritability).

However, these victims do appear even in routine checkups for pre-existing conditions or for health problems usually unrelated to sex trafficking.

Healthcare workers, therefore, are encouraged to be more vigilant in detecting sex trafficked Filipinos or foreign nationals and report them to authorities. We are still our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. Look at them with those fraternal eyes, always.


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