Nurses' Perceptions of Victims of Human Trafficking in an Urban Emergency Department: A Qualitative Study

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Introduction:Human trafficking is estimated to surpass the drug trade as the leading illegal industry in the world. According to a recent study, over 87.8% of trafficking survivors came into contact with a healthcare professional while they were enslaved and were not identified as a victim of human trafficking. The aims of this study are to understand the perceptions of emergency nurses about human trafficking, victims of violence, and prostitution.Methods:A qualitative, descriptive study using a semi-structured interview approach was done with ten registered nurses in a large, urban Emergency Department in the northeastern U.S. Interviews were recorded and transcribed; thematic analysis was performed.Results:Six themes emerged from the interviews including, “human trafficking exists in the patient population” yet no nurse has screened or treated a victim; human trafficking victims are perceived to be “young, female, and foreign born”; all of the emergency nurses reported having worked with or screened a victim of violence; victims of violence were viewed as patients who present as “sad and grieving”; prostitutes are seen as “hard and tough”; and emergency nurses did not have education on human trafficking victims’ needs or resources.Discussion:Emergency nurses should be more aware about victims of human trafficking. The media portrayal of human trafficking victims had influenced the nurses’ perceptions of this population. Victims of violence are perceived to be very different from prostitutes, but there is a desire for education about violence as well as information about specific resources open to victims.Contribution to Emergency Nursing PracticeEmergency nurses are in a key position to identify and care for victims of human trafficking but do not have enough education regarding how to identify these victims and which resources to use for them.Differing perceptions of emergency nurses regarding victims of violence, prostitution, and human trafficking can potentially affect the care delivered to these patients.

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