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'How many patients I have potentially missed?' | Doctors to learn signs of sex trafficking at symposium

Dr. Julianne Birt is helping organize an event to help caregivers in the medical profession have the information needed to see the signs of sex trafficking.

ATLANTA — The injuries tell a story of what a victim is going through, but that's only if doctors and nurses caring for a patient know what to look for.

This is why it’s significant that medical professionals in Georgia are being trained to identify and help victims of sex trafficking.

Dr. Julianne Birt is helping to organize an event to help caregivers in the medical profession have the information needed to see the signs and step in to help. 

 “They are seeing physicians; they are seeing mid-level providers; the secretary, the nurse, the medical assistants," she said. “We are not recognizing them.”

According to a study done by Lederer & Wetzel, nearly 88 percent of trafficking survivors reported that they got healthcare services while they were victims. Another statistic suggests 68 percent saw a doctor at an emergency department.

Most victims of human trafficking have been serviced in emergency departments, urgent care facilities, refugee centers, and adolescent health clinics. 

RELATED: Operation Safe Summer II: More than 200 missing or exploited children located

“When I saw that statistic, it made me think about how many patients I have potentially missed," Dr. Birt said. “It frightened me.” 

She said it made her wonder who that patient might have been.

“Was it a young girl who came in with her aunt or was it someone who wasn’t English speaking and someone was interpreting and speaking for her?” she asked. “Those are red flags that I realize at a gynecologist that I may have missed it."

The Georgia State Medical Association and the Atlanta Medical Association are co-hosting the Healthcare's Role in Combating Human Trafficking Symposium on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Morehouse School of Medicine. 

RELATED: She came to Atlanta to be in a music video. He told her she'd dance naked and sell her body.

Dr. Birt hopes the event will help train physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other healthcare workers to be able to recognize and provide services necessary for patients who may be victims.

One survivor, who is sharing her story, said she went to the doctor when she was 11 years old. She’d already been abused by a man who would later take her out of state and traffic her. 

"The man took me from Philadelphia to New York," she said." I didn't know what he was doing."

The doctor revealed she was pregnant, but never asked if she’d been abused. The doctor never asked questions about the man who assaulted her. 

"When I was out there, I had no hopes, no dreams," she said. "I didn't get that chance to do that."

RELATED: FBI: 169 arrested in metro Atlanta Super Bowl sex trafficking sting, several children recovered

The symposium hopes to focus on the need for medical professionals to be aware of the signs.

Learn more about the event and find out how to register online.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can get help by calling 1-888-373-7888. You can also find resources online on the National Hulman Trafficking Hotline's website. 

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