Out and About – Putting a Face to the Facts of Human Trafficking

cleveland clinic akron general logo.jpgNurses, doctors and first responders absorbed the facts of human trafficking during VAP Director of Community Engagement Jan Apisa’s presentation during a continuing education seminar at Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

When she was finished, trafficking survivor and founder of Survivor’s Ink, Jennifer Kempton, put a face to the information Jan gave them.

Jan regularly addresses medical professionals, first responders, schools and staff, neighborhood meetings, and other groups who want to know more about human trafficking or VAP’s core services.

Addressing the Cleveland Clinic Akron General audience, Jan revealed that a person may be lured into modern day slavery by someone he or she trusts, who grooms the victim and many times, introduces them to addictive drugs.

For Jennifer, it was her boyfriend. After several abusive relationships, Jennifer thought he was “the one.” At 16, she left home to be with him, she said.  Eventually, he talked her into using cocaine, then heroin, she said. When he stopped working, he convinced her to take a job as a stripper to pay the rent and feed their drug addiction. Eventually, he forced her into prostitution.

Jan explained that trafficking victims are often branded by their abusers as a sign of ownership with tattoos or by other means.

Jennifer was branded with four tattoos — three from her boyfriend and one from the gang to whom he sold her.

It isn’t unusual for a trafficking victim seeking medical care to arrive at a hospital with a much older boyfriend or girlfriend who does most of the talking for them, Jan said. She suggested separating the patient from their companion for a more candid conversation.

Jennifer’s abusers never left her side around strangers, she said.

Even when a trafficking victim can break free, they often still have feelings for their abuser, Jan said.

After a particularly cruel beating by her gang owners, Jennifer knew if she stayed any longer she was going to die, she said. She escaped her owners, but she didn’t call 911, or go directly to a hospital. Instead, Jennifer went to her boyfriend for help.  He told her to go back to the gang.  When she refused, saying she needed to go to a hospital, he told her she would have to go on her own.

Trafficking victims often show signs of physical or mental abuse, Jan said.  They are often afraid, nervous, depressed and may appear to be malnourished.  It is not uncommon for them to avoid eye contact or conversations. They often present as drug addicted.

Jennifer received the physical care from the emergency room staff, she said. But if they saw more than a drug addicted prostitute, if they suspected she might be a trafficking victim, they kept it to themselves, she said.  Jennifer had been taught well not to answer questions that weren’t asked.

“All they saw was a prostitute and a drug addict,” Jennifer said.

Jan told the medical professionals gathered in the Cleveland Clinic Akron General auditorium she looks differently at prostitution than she did before becoming involved in the anti-human trafficking project.

“I believed there was a clear distinction between prostitution and human trafficking,” Jan said. “I’ve learned that there really isn’t a difference. That those who choose to prostitute have, at some point in their life, experienced something that leads them into this lifestyle, whether it be child sex abuse, human trafficking or drug or other abuses.”

To invite Jan to your group, club or office, email JApisa@victimassistanceprogram.org

(Editor’s Note:  A few weeks after this presentation, Jennifer Kempton died.  More info at SurvivorsInk.org)

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