What Goes Unseen, Goes Unmet

One of the most eye-opening presentations at the NACBH 2019 Emerging Best Practices Conference was Meeting the Needs of Childhood Victims of Sex Trafficking, presented by Yolanda Graham, M.D., Senior Vice President, and Chief Medical Officer/Chief Clinical Officer, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health. Thankfully, over the last few years, industry and media attention has been centered on this issue, bringing broader recognition to the devastating scale of the problem. However, the statistics were staggering. Dr. Graham clearly made the argument for the importance of universal screening for sex trafficking. More effective screening is critical to recognition, to seeing the scale of the issue so that providers can more effectively treat and meet the needs of these victims. 

Dr. Graham’s presentation revealed the startling figure that commercial sex trafficking is a $9.9 billion per year industry world-wide. Providers of children’s behavioral health services see, understand, and recognize youth who have experienced some of the most traumatic experiences imaginable, and yet these numbers were surprising even to many of those in attendance at the conference. Dr. Graham also cited research that one-in-five girls and one-in-ten boys will be sexually exploited by the time they reach adulthood. Despite this figure, many providers noted they aren’t confident they have the tools, programs, or staff expertise needed to address the volume of this problem.

Dr. Graham focused on the importance and significance of universal screening. It may be difficult to recognize the issues and symptoms typical of sex trafficking victims unless proper screening is done, and yet knowing that a child has been a victim of this kind of crime is critical to the success of behavioral health treatment. Dr. Graham noted that victims of sex trafficking are significantly more likely to run away than other youth and are likely to get re-involved if they are not in treatment. If you can recognize up-front that a child has been a victim, you are better able to determine the right care setting or level of restriction needed to treat them effectively and reduce the likelihood of re-entry into the trade. In addition, Dr. Graham commented on the successful use of Motivational Interviewing with this population. With the recent approval of the technique by the IV-E Prevention Services Clearinghouse, treatment may qualify for IV-E funding, offering greater opportunities for providers to meet this important need.