January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month. The University of Vermont Medical Center Clinical Simulation Laboratory has programs that train healthcare professionals to identify and work with patients who are victims of human trafficking. 

It’s another one of those things, the things that happen around the world, or in big cities, but that you really don’t think happen in Vermont – but this thing is happening. It’s human trafficking and it is a reality in Vermont.

Human trafficking refers to the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of commercial exploitation. This exploitation can take many forms, including sex work, massage work, restaurant work, farm work, cleaning crews, drug muling, forestry, and domestic work, such as maids and nannies.

Traffickers can be anyone – and so too the victims. The victims are not only young women forced into prostitution. In fact, globally, half of the victims of slavery are male and only about 25 percent are children (Source: ILO). Twenty-one million people are trapped in forced labor. Watch “Lured by a Job, Trapped in Forced Labor” to see a man’s story.

The First Case of Human Trafficking in the United States

One of the first cases discovered and prosecuted in the United States was that of a domestic servant from the Philippines who trapped for 19 years by force and coercion by a couple who were married physicians in Wisconsin. Learn more about the “Calimlim Case.”

What’s Happening in Vermont

The first case we saw in Vermont involved a young Spanish-speaking woman who was brought from New York to Vermont and escorted from farm-to-farm, unaware of exactly where she was. She was forced and coerced to sexually service farmworkers. Ultimately, she received help, services, and what is called a T Nonimmigrant Visa (or, T Visa), which is set aside for victims of human trafficking, protects them, and allows them to remain in the United States to assist in an investigation or prosecution, as well as legally work and live here.

There is also human trafficking in the form of forced and coerced prostitution of Vermonters, usually at hotels and apartments and usually booked through online communications. Sometimes there are other crimes occurring simultaneously, most of which are tied to the drug trade. These victims usually have the added burden of addiction issues and past childhood traumas. Self-identification is rare and the cases are complicated.

What We Are Doing to Stop Human Trafficking

The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently launched the UCANSTOPTRAFFICK.org campaign for public awareness of the drug and sex trafficking trades in order to show people how they are linked and to help prevent more victimization.

The federal law is called the Trafficking Victim’s Protection Act and Vermont has one of the strongest state laws in the entire country. A collaborative statewide task force has established a response protocol and there are victim services available – the primary number to dial in Vermont is 211. View the “Vermont Human Trafficking Victim Resource Guide” and “Human Trafficking, Guidebook on Identification, Assessment, and Response in the Health Care Setting” to learn more.

What Healthcare Professionals Can Do to Help

The best thing for professionals in the healthcare setting to do is to become educated, learn to recognize indicators of potential victimization, and work with others to form a plan. We need to eradicate this human rights abuse in all the forms it takes.

Edith Headshot color-3Edith Klimoski, MS, is a founder and director of Give Way to Freedom, a Vermont-based private operating foundation dedicated to the advocacy, care, and empowerment of trafficked persons, since 2009. She is a member of the Freedom Network and chair of the International Committee for the Rotary Club of Essex.



Ross, Heather - croppedHeather Ross, JD, is Assistant United States attorney for the District of Vermont. She is a graduate of Smith College and William and Mary Law School. Following six years in private practice at Downs Rachlin Martin in Burlington, Vermont, she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office where she is a federal prosecutor whose practice includes the investigation and prosecution of human trafficking cases.

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