U-M nursing, law collaboration aims to dispel myths about human trafficking

June 24, 2021
Written By:
Laura Bailey

Most people have heard of human trafficking, but few can define it. Even experts in law enforcement and academia can have a hard time quantifying the problem.

Michelle Munro-Kramer

Michelle Munro-Kramer

The new Human Trafficking Collaborative website, developed by faculty at the University of Michigan School of Nursing and the U-M Law School, was created to dispel myths about human trafficking and to train health care providers to recognize and treat victims.

Michelle Munro-Kramer, the Suzanne Bellinger Feethan Professor of Nursing at the School of Nursing, and Bridgette Carr, an associate dean and director of the Human Trafficking Clinic at the Law School, developed the project for those who would like to learn more about human trafficking. This forced or compelled service takes two primary forms: labor trafficking and sex trafficking.

Bridgette Carr

Bridgette Carr

In addition to the website, which launched this month, there is a continuing education module that meets state of Michigan training requirements for health care providers and videos documenting survivor and provider experiences.

The module is intended to help health care professionals identify and respond to survivors of human trafficking using a preplanned, comprehensive approach, so professionals know exactly what to do before a victim walks through the door, Munro-Kramer said.

There are also resources, such as sample screening policies and response procedures, that could be used at a health system level. Website content was informed by a statewide survey of federally qualified health centers, health departments and hospitals statewide.

“We know both from studies and from the experiences of my clients that health care providers are on the frontlines of combating human trafficking,” said Carr, whose law clinic provides free legal services for survivors of trafficking.

“My clients have shared how invisible they feel when they see a health care provider, and on the inside they are screaming for help but say nothing. This training is a tremendous opportunity for us to share our expertise with front-line health care workers in hopes of identifying more victims of human trafficking.”

Unfortunately, there are few standards for these trainings now, so many myths about human trafficking are perpetuated, Munro-Kramer said. For instance, most people believe that trafficking begins when someone’s kidnapped or forced at gunpoint, but that’s not the case.

Most situations of human trafficking start with a relationship, with the perpetrator first building trust. Those targeted are often vulnerable: runaways, homeless, immigrants and people who identify as LGBTQ and are not supported by family or friends.

Then there are prevalence-based trafficking myths. For instance, two different sites list Michigan near the bottom of the worst states for trafficking. But Munro-Kramer said that’s unquantifiable because prevalence data doesn’t exist to determine the real magnitude of trafficking, and the problem remains underresearched and often misunderstood.

“We don’t know how much trafficking occurs in the United States or in Michigan,” Carr said. “Without knowing the baseline prevalence of trafficking, we also can’t know where it is most prevalent or when it spikes. Anyone who ranks U.S. cities or who claims a certain event—the Super Bowl, the auto show—increases trafficking is spreading misinformation.”

Carr and Munro-Kramer began working together on the issue of human trafficking after they met at a conference in Ethiopia in 2015.

“We recognized a shared interest in the comprehensive care—meaning health care, social services, legal assistance, etc.—of vulnerable populations, particularly human trafficking survivors,” Munro-Kramer said.

Shortly thereafter, Katheryn Soller, a nurse by education and donor to U-M and the School of Nursing, established a five-year donation to address human trafficking, which specifically outlined a nursing-law school collaboration. Carr and Munro-Kramer have worked together ever since on small studies, an interdisciplinary course, speaking engagements and now the website.

“I am so grateful for the trip to Ethiopia—sadly I don’t know if our paths would have crossed here in Ann Arbor,” Carr said. “Collaborating with Michelle and her colleagues at the School of Nursing has been such a gift.”

All resources on the Human Trafficking Collaborative website are free, but health care providers who need a certificate for the continuing education will pay $3.