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NYC's Northwell Health A Leader In Training Employees To Identify Human Trafficking Victims

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- There's no exact number of how many people are involved in human trafficking in the United States. But it's estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.

In an effort to end this global crisis a local hospital is training staff to spot the "red flags" in patients, CBS2's Dick Brennan reported Tuesday.

Jasmine Grace was only 18 when she met the man who would soon force her into human trafficking for five years.

"I was never, you know, handcuffed to a radiator like some people may think trafficking happens or looks like. But it was more mental and emotional bondage," Grace said.

FLASHBACK: Exclusive: NYC's Hidden World Of Human Trafficking

human trafficking
(Photo: CBS2)

Grace said she was very vulnerable and secluded, like many other victims. During her abuse she did, however, go for check-ups and see doctors every few months, but none were able to successfully intervene. That's something the Northwell Health Human Trafficking Response Program aims to change.

Deb O'Hara-Rusckowski, founder of Global Strategic Operatives for the Eradication of Human Trafficking (GSO), said 88% of all traffic victims seek medical care or treatment during the time that they're trafficked.

"That puts healthcare providers, really, in a unique position to identify and take appropriate action," she said.

The program director said the first step is to identify the signs in a patient, make sure they feel safe, and eventually help them get the resources and help that they need.

"Somebody is avoiding eye contact, or their story is inconsistent. They don't know their surroundings. They don't know where they live. They don't know their address. Unexplained bruising and trauma, things like that," Northwell Health's Santosh Paulus said.

Those are all signs that can be detected if you know what to look for. The training is being done through a partnership with GSO, an organization under the umbrella of United Nations. New York City's Northwell Health is now one of six healthcare systems in the nation to offer this unique training.

"I know you're in this field to fix people and I know we're very complicated and messy," Grace said. "That's my call to you, is to be non judgmental and compassionate to your patients."

Grace proves victims can turn into survivors and lead fulfilling lives. They just need some help and support along the way.

So far nearly 5,000 staff members have been trained across all Northwell hospitals, either online or in person.

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