Invisible victims

Janet Carroll
Chair of the Task Force, Janet Carroll, RN, CEN, SANE-A, SANE-P

No one is exempt from violence. That is a message that the Domestic & Sexual Violence and Human Trafficking Task Force at Dartmouth Health Medical Center is working to spread. 

“We are a group of employees that have a passion to support our patients that experience violence,” says  Janet Carroll, RN, CEN, SANE-A, SANE-P, nurse manager of Forensic Nursing at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and chair of the Task Force. “Our mission is to spread awareness, provide guidance and community resources, and support Dartmouth Health staff and patients with these delicate situations.” 

Carroll answers these questions about human trafficking based on the work of the Dartmouth Health Task Force. 

What is human trafficking? 

Trafficking is the exploitation of a person through labor, services or a commercial sex act by force, fraud or coercion. It’s when one person takes advantage of another person for profit.  

Is human trafficking happening in Vermont and New Hampshire?  

Sex and labor trafficking occurs in every county in Vermont and New Hampshire, ultimately in our backyards. 

How do victims get lured by traffickers?   

Traffickers will prey on the vulnerabilities of people. Initially, they will target and groom their victims and eventually isolate and control them. They know what to look for and make false promises initially, then they will meet that person’s need and build trust. That will create dependence on the trafficker who isolates them from others and controls them through threats of violence, intimidation and other means.

How can healthcare providers know someone is being trafficked?

They might be accompanied by a handler and not be able to speak for themselves or they are provided with scripted communication. They may not have their identification or documents. They may not know what state/town they are in. They may report they experience domestic or sexual violence. They may present with chronic health issues, malnourishment or symptoms of exposure to toxic work substances or lack protective, work gear. Behaviorally, everyone reacts to traumatic events differently, from anger or frustration to submission and withdrawal. Some of the physical symptoms could include chronic pelvic/rectal pain/trauma, untreated sexually transmitted infections, bruises, bites, burn marks or branding.

How can healthcare providers help victims?  

In addition to using trauma-informed care when interacting with our patients, the biggest resource we have in our communities is our local crisis center advocates. At the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center campus, members of the forensic nursing team are the specialists who should see the patient.  

Who are the Task Force participants and partners?

Employees of Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and Dartmouth Hitchcock Clinics, Veterans Affairs, WISE (Upper Valley’s domestic abuse crisis center) and Dartmouth College.

This article was first published under the title of "Invisible Victims" in the March 2024 issue of Connections Magazine. It has been edited for the web.