St. Francis employee saves sex trafficking victim

Published: Jan. 31, 2022 at 8:42 PM EST
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - More than 100 victims of human trafficking were rescued across Georgia in 2021. January is Human Trafficking Awareness Month and in Columbus, an area healthcare worker is sharing her experience with helping get a victim to safety.

That employee says there were several red flags that stood out to her including the lack of eye contact from that child. She says her motherly instincts ultimately saved a little girl’s life.

Many health care workers have to make last-minute decisions that could save someone’s life. Kayla Durga, who works at St. Francis Emory Healthcare, found herself in that position in 2021. She says she thought something was wrong while registering a 15-year-old little girl from Guatemala along with a man who appeared to be in his 30′s.

“She would just look at the ground,” said Durga. “She would never make eye contact with me. So that was... pretty much the first red flag.”

Durga says anytime the little girl would look up, the man allegedly threw a fit, asking the little girl what she was looking at. Durga says the man interrupted the girl when she asked the child to describe the relationship between her and the man.

“He would just say, a friend,” said Durga. “He wouldn’t say he was family, said she had no family and that they took care of each other.”

Red flag number two. The final red flag that caused her to notify her supervisor happened when she says the man paid for the co-pay.

“He paid for it but he pulled out a big thing of cash,” said Durga.

Durga says the man tried to prevent the two from being separated. But, his efforts failed. Durga says once separated, the hospital found out the little girl was a sex-trafficking victim. Red flags such as those mentioned, are ones local officials say all health care workers need to watch out for.

“All of us have to keep our eyes open to you know, the potential threat, especially when it’s a minor like that,” said St. Francis Emory Healthcare’s Director of Marketing and Communications Grant Farrimond.

Another thing to keep in mind is how often these victims seek medical attention.

“Research has shown that between 68 and 88% of children and adults who are actually actively being trafficked will see someone in the health care profession,” said Dr. Brett Murphy-Dawson, Child Psychiatrist on the board of non-profit organization Micah’s Promise. Dr. Dawson is also an assistant adjunct professor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, where she trains medical students on the intersection of human trafficking and healthcare.

To ensure local health care workers are aware of those warning signs, Micah’s Promise is working with St. Francis employees and plans to offer training at Mercy Med.

Anyone experiencing human trafficking in need of help, can call the Georgia End Human Trafficking hotline at 866-363-4842. You can also contact the national helpline at 1-888-373-7888.

Those in need of support can join HEAL Trafficking, an integrated network of over 3,800 survivors and multidisciplinary professionals in 45 countries dedicated to ending human trafficking and supporting its survivors, form a health perspective. Online training modules provided by the government can be found here. Online training is also available here.

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