Jake Freudenberger, TIME President
Our story starts with a patient I treated while I was working as an EMT at a hospital just outside Houston. This patient proved to be one of the most important people I have met in my life.
This patient was a young woman who was well known in the Emergency Department (ED). She was what many people refer to as a “frequent flyer”. She came into the ED often with various complaints and was sometimes difficult to deal with.
The day I met her, it was no different. I was warned about her before I went into her room. She arrived that day for suicidal ideations, a common complaint for her.
I am very personable and love talking to people, so despite being “warned”, throughout my time with her that day, I learned intricate details of her life. I learned of the hardship she had gone through and I began to empathize with her as I realized how difficult her life has been but also how easy it is to slip into a life of depression and despair. We talk for hours and really got to know each other. I was relieved by another ER-tech after about 8 hours of monitoring her and told her I would say goodbye.
That night I told her “I believe in you”. I told her “I think you have a very good chance of getting out of her situation and that she was stronger than she knew.”
About 9-10 months later she came into the ED again, this time for medical reasons.
Once she was triaged and settled into her room, I went in to check on her. We get to talking and I ask her how everything has been since the last time we talked. I don’t need to rephrase what she said next, because those words are burned into my brain until the day I die:
“I went into a dark place after the last time I came to the ED. I was more depressed than I had ever been before. I was close to committing suicide on multiple occasions. But every time I got close, I thought about what you said. No one has ever believed in me before. But for some reason you did. And I never forgot what you told me.
I ditched my boyfriend, I got a job, and I am much happier now.
I didn’t commit suicide because of you.”
This was a special moment for both of us. I was both surprised and ecstatic that my words meant that much to her. However, I didn’t realize how impactful this moment would be until a couple years later.
Fast forward two years. I am a first year medical student at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine (TCOM) listening to a physician from a non-profit human trafficking organization (UnBound) giving us a training on human trafficking. My hairs start to stick up as I listen to the signs and presentations of how someone being trafficked would present in the healthcare setting:
The innocuous tattoo.
The “boyfriend” that would either accompany the patient or be outside waiting.
Constantly moving to different cities
Acting out or being notoriously difficult to deal with
Positive drug test
And here’s where it really hit: the uncertainty of their current place of residence.
It was at that point that I had the most powerful flashback I’ve ever had in my life. The patient’s words came rushing into my head like water breaking through a dam, “I don’t really have a place to live. My boyfriend and I stay at a motel around here but I’m not really sure where it is or what it’s called.” That statement has echoed in my mind almost everyday since I sat for the lecture that day.
“She was being trafficked,” I thought to myself.
I put my head between my hands to regain my composure and continue listening. All of the signs were there. The storyline, the boyfriend, the motel, the tattoo. It suddenly became clear why she was a “frequent flyer”. It suddenly became clear why she was “feisty”. She was seeking help, but didn’t know how or was too afraid to ask for it. And I didn’t even know how to ask her if she needed help. I was sad, angry, and frustrated at the same time. Trafficking was not even a differential on anyone’s list. No one ever brought that up as a possibility. If it was such a big issue, how could that be? Why was no one even thinking about it?
This is how TIME came to be. It was born out of frustration that we as medical personnel are not being equipped with the knowledge to identify and help these victims. With 88% of survivors of human trafficking stating they passed by a medical practitioner without being recognized, we had to step up and make a change. Through research, trainings, and outreach, we hope to bring that number down to 0%.
This issue is becoming more and more prevalent, but the institutions that train our medical professionals are still lagging on human trafficking education. We hope to encourage and stimulate that change. And we can only do so with your help.
Join us in the fight to end human trafficking.
The TIME is now.