Human Trafficking: Mercy Nurses Trained to Spot Modern-Day Slavery

February 2, 2017

Slavery isn’t behind us. Human trafficking, which preys on women, men and children, is a growing problem in the Midwest – and Mercy nurses are watching for it.

“People think it will never come here, or it will never impact us,” said Dawn Day, sexual assault nurse examiner at Mercy Hospital Springfield. “But the reality is there is a major interstate that cuts through the Midwest, and many human trafficking victims are transported along I-44.”

Human trafficking, a $32 billion industry worldwide, involves the recruitment, transportation, harboring or purchase of real people against their will.

“Victims we see in our emergency room do not know where they are at any given time, and when they arrive, many times it’s for an incident that may not be directly related to the trafficking itself – such as a broken bone, illness, and more,” Day said. “Once they’re inside our walls, we do the best we can to try to spot it."

Day says there are some possible:

  • No clear-cut storyline, or understanding of where he or she is
  • Don’t carry ID or know their Social Security number
  • Accompanied by someone else who is “in charge” – not necessarily a male
  • Withdrawn or disheveled, little eye contact
  • Serial numbers/bar codes or gang sign tattos – sometimes hidden under clothes

Nurses like Day are trained to spot not only the victims, but those leading the charge, too.

“If a man is leading the ring, he may have a female counterpart that watches over the victims,” Day said. “These women often grow up among the human trafficking circuit and have proven they can be trusted to scout out new victims.”

Health care professionals usually have the best chance to intervene because they can isolate the victim.

“We may be able to get the victim alone, ask the pertinent questions as we’re doing specific testing, and then find them the help they need.”

Human trafficking isn’t just a growing problem in the Midwest; eradicating human trafficking is a top priority for the Sisters of Mercy in more than 40 countries. The Sisters support trafficked persons; advocate for victim services and for addressing the demand for exploitive practices; and educate law enforcement, community service providers and the hospitality industry about their critical roles in reaching victims and punishing perpetrators. Click here to learn about their efforts.

“In our ministry, we are always looking out for those who sometimes aren’t able to care for themselves,” Day said. “Victims are trained distrust health care providers and law enforcement, so it’s a delicate process and we must take an extra step to comfort them and really understand them in order to help stop the problem.”

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, call the Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. The lines are open 24 hours.

This Thursday, Feb. 2, the Catholic Health Association will be hosting a Twitter Chat on Human Trafficking. Follow @TheCHAUSA and #TraffickingChat from 12-1 p.m. Central.



Mercy, named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2017 by Truven, an IBM Watson Health company, serves millions annually. Mercy includes 44 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, more than 700 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 40,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 

Media Contacts

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