Empowering victims and providing hope for a safer future
For Josie Feemster, being trafficked for sex was a scary dream she could not wake up from.
Groomed for “the life” from the time she was a teenager, her trafficker used violence and threats to her and her family, including her baby girl, to keep her in bondage.
With help and support she was eventually able to get out of her trafficking situation, but the trauma she experienced stayed with her.
“With trauma, your body keeps the score. I knew I needed to seek professional help,” says Josie. “I’ve been seeing Dr. Chambers and he’s really kind and compassionate and didn’t make me feel uncomfortable.”
Josie connected with Dignity Health’s Mercy Family Health Center in Bakersfield to seek care on the recommendation of other human trafficking survivors.
Her caregiver, Dr. Ronald Chambers, is using Dignity Health’s Human Trafficking Response Program to provide victim-centered, trauma-informed care in his clinic. He also has implemented a resident training program so that future physicians will be prepared to treat victims and survivors.
“The trauma that they have been through has been so severe for so long, they’re going to need time to recover. We’re able to help get them resources and access to care,” says Dr. Chambers.
Human trafficking victims suffer from serious medical and mental health issues ranging from physical and sexual abuse to malnutrition and post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet a 2014 study found that 88 percent of trafficking survivors had contact with the health care system but were not identified as victims. Dignity Health is working to change that.
A system-wide initiative was launched in 2014 and is led by Holly Austin Gibbs, a nationally recognized advocate. Dignity Health has invested more than $1 million to train 4,000 staff to recognize victims and provide trauma-informed care, and educated 400+ professionals from other health care systems about how best to assist victims.
Sarah Chaffin, a medical resident working with Dr. Chambers, says this program has shaped her as a caregiver in a way that will affect all of her patients, not only human trafficking survivors.
“The Human Trafficking Response Program has made me a better doctor,” says Dr. Chaffin. “It’s really taught me an incredible amount of patience, and listening, and to really see them for who they are and what their story is. I think that can’t lead to anything but better treatment.”