The title of ‘Human Trafficking Liaison’ isn’t something Ashley McAree, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, envisioned when she began her career in nursing. She says she settled into the role very organically. It wasn’t until she started working for the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) program at GBMC Healthcare that she realized the prevalence of human trafficking in Maryland and the Baltimore area.
“We’re a centralized, condensed state, and with lots of sporting events and conventions, big influxes of people going into the city can raise the demand for commercial sex,” McAree explains.
McAree says it was an emergency room encounter with two young women that exposed a lack of training on how to properly treat them.
“I had two 15-year-old human trafficking victims, and I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “I started researching it and was completely shocked that I’d been a nurse since 2010 and had never had any education on human trafficking.”
McAree was astounded to learn the majority of human trafficking victims will seek healthcare. A 2014 study found 88% of human trafficking survivors reported having contact with someone in the healthcare system, but none of the victims were identified. After that initial encounter, McAree says she knew something had to change within the system.
Together with her program manager, McAree approached the leadership team at GBMC about changing the way they approached human trafficking cases.
“Once I started early discussions about having a formal policy and training protocols, they were completely on board,” she says. “They’ve been amazing with their support.”
GBMC now has mandatory training in place for every nurse on staff and a formal policy on how to treat human trafficking patients. McAree says very few hospitals require training or have specific policies related to human trafficking. She hopes to change that.
“One of my big goals is to educate every hospital and healthcare facility in Baltimore County. I want to get the education out there and assist with their policy and protocol development.”
She’d also like to keep expanding the SAFE program services at GBMC and eventually be able to offer services at no charge to patients.
McAree says the success of these policies comes from a joint effort by law enforcement, Emergency Department nurses, and the SAFE program, recalling a time when a minor came to the Emergency Department and raised a lot of red flags to the nurse treating her.
“She had run away from home, had been missing for over a month, and didn’t even know she was in the state of Maryland. We were able to call the human trafficking detective directly, and he was there in 15 minutes. She ended up disclosing to him, got the services she needed, and was reunited with her family. If the first nurse wouldn’t have noticed the warning signs, the girl would have been discharged with no resources and would have been at a much higher risk to return to human trafficking.”
She says the teamwork between departments is what makes their policies successful.
“We work so well together, and we’re fighting for the same cause,” she says.
McAree hopes both patients and practitioners across the county will benefit from the training and policies they’ve implemented at GBMC.
“We want healthcare providers to know that they’re not alone. There is support for them as they’re deciding how to treat their patients. We also want patients to know they have confidentiality as an adult. They can seek healthcare without having to worry about being reported without their consent. We want to be a safe place for them.”
To learn more about the SAFE and Domestic Violence program at GBMC, visit www.gbmc.org/safe.
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