UVM hosts human trafficking conference

In February, UVM brought together an FBI agent, doctors and community service workers to address human trafficking in Vermont.

The Department of Family Medicine and the Larner College of Medicine hosts the annual Cultural Awareness Conference. This year’s conference focused on how medical professionals can combat human trafficking.

This year’s keynote speaker,  Dr. Rachel DiSanto ‘04 has fought human trafficking in Vermont by educating community members and working with patients.

“We want to address a cultural issue that impacts people who may not be seen as quickly,” said Martha Seagrave, a physician assistant who has been the director of the conference for six years.

Since she started running it, the conference has educated attendees on  everything from nutrition to refugees in American communities.

“That’s our whole goal,” Seagrave said. “Whether it’s food, or whether it’s human trafficking, it’s trying to recognize these populations and the diversity of Vermont, and how it will impact their health.”

The conference introduced students to the tools needed for patient-centered care.  Seagrave said this included asking patients the right questions, looking for signs, and working with a team said Seagrave.

Lori Durieux, the Office and Program Support Generalist for the Department of Family Medicine has coordinated the conference for two years. She pointed out how appearances can be misleading.

Even Vermont has felt the realities of human trafficking, Durieux said.

“It’s something that you don’t think about being prevalent in our everyday life and something that we’d see in the clinic but it is,” first-year medical student Alexa Arvidson said. “Distinguishing it from something like an abusive partner was beneficial.”

The conferences showed  students that trafficking can come in many forms.

Victims can have differing  experiences. Some are forced to do unpaid work, verbally or physically abused or trafficked for sex, Seagrave said.

From legislation and law enforcement to patient-doctor interactions, the conference advocated for tackling the issue with experts in many areas.

“We really want to get an interprofessional group together, so it’s not just medical students learning with medical students,” she said.

DiSanto and other panel speakers advocated for a phone line run by United Way of Vermont as a safe way for victims to get in touch with resources.