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West J Emerg Med. 2017 Jun;18(4):616-620. doi: 10.5811/westjem.2017.2.31924. Epub 2017 Apr 17.

Screening for Victims of Sex Trafficking in the Emergency Department: A Pilot Program.

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University of California, Davis, Department of Emergency Medicine, Sacramento, California.



Estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of sex trafficking victims live in the United States. Several screening tools for healthcare professionals to identify sex trafficking victims have been proposed, but the effectiveness of these tools in the emergency department (ED) remains unclear. Our primary objective in this study was to evaluate the feasibility of a screening survey to identify adult victims of sex trafficking in the ED. We also compared the sensitivity of emergency physician concern and a screening survey for identifying sex trafficking victims in the ED and determined the most effective question(s) for identifying adult victims of sex trafficking.


We enrolled a convenience sample of medically stable female ED patients, age 18-40 years. Patients completed a 14-question survey. Physician concern for sex trafficking was documented prior to informing the physician of the survey results. A "yes" answer to any question or physician concern was considered a positive screen, and the patient was offered social work consultation. We defined a "true positive" as a patient admission for or social work documentation of sex trafficking. Demographic and clinical information were collected from the electronic medical record.


We enrolled 143 patients, and of those 39 (27%, 95% confidence interval [CI] [20%-35%]) screened positive, including 10 (25%, 95% CI [13%-41%]) ultimately identified as victims of sex trafficking. Sensitivity of the screening survey (100%, 95% CI [74%-100%]) was better than physician concern (40%, 95% CI [12%-74%]) for identifying victims of sex trafficking, difference 60%, 95% CI [30%-90%]. Physician specificity (91%, 95% CI [85%-95%]), however, was slightly better than the screening survey (78%, 95% CI [70%-85%]), difference 13%, 95% CI [4%-21%]. All 10 (100%, 95%CI [74%-100%]) "true positive" cases answered "yes" to the screening question regarding abuse.


Identifying adult victims of sex trafficking in the ED is feasible. A screening survey appears to have greater sensitivity than physician concern, and a single screening question may be sufficient to identify all adult victims of sex trafficking in the ED.

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Conflict of interest statement

Conflicts of Interest By the WestJEM article submission agreement, all authors are required to disclose all affiliations, funding sources and financial or management relationships that could be perceived as potential sources of bias. The project described was supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, National Institutes of Health, through grant #UL1 TR000002.

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