Local woman creates new training to help human trafficking victims

FORT MYERS, Fla. – A local woman is working to shine a national spotlight on human trafficking and to stop the cycle.

Yaro Garcia is the clinical director at ACT (Abuse, Counseling, Treatment) in Lee County. In December she testified in Washington, D.C. alongside four others talking about how to rescue trafficking victims. Garcia says there are red flags often missed by medical providers and she’s hoping her work will help those providers better identify someone being trafficked.

A study done by Global Centurion and published by Loyola University found 87.8% of sex trafficking victims said they had contact with a medical provider while being trafficked and often those victims are treated then returned to the trafficker.

“We know they get sick because of the amount exploitation they’re receiving and we know they’re also being taken to treatment,” she says. “Many times it turns into an issue of they [medical providers] see it, they know they’re seeing it, but they are not sure what to do about it.”

After testifying in D.C., Garcia was part of a technical working group that helped create the training program SOAR: Stop, Observe, Act and Respond. SOAR is a new training protocol to help medical providers better recognize victims and a potential trafficker.

“They way [victims] are being talked to is being changed and the response system is also being changed…The hospitals are being mandated to make an additional phone call. It’s not just you’re treating this person and you’re seeing this person, you also have to make this call.”

That call will be to a place like ACT in Lee County, where they specialize in helping victims of human trafficking.

“This is another step, that protective piece, that we need so much,” said Garcia.

Training for SOAR will start in August. At this point it is optional, but Garcia is hoping they can get Congress to make it mandatory for all hospitals and clinics. WINK News reached out to our local hospitals. NCH says their staff has already had training similar to SOAR. Lee Memorial Health Systems was aware of the training but did not have anyone signed up at this point. At the time this story was published, BayFront Health had not returned our call.

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