No life left behind– Pregnancy help community at the forefront of serving human trafficking victims

No life left behind– Pregnancy help community at the forefront of serving human trafficking victims (Alex Green/Pexels)

Pregnancy help centers are working to meet this crucial need

When considering the services offered by the local pregnancy help organization (PHO) it might not come to mind for some that assisting the victims of human trafficking is among the offerings. But the fact is, in the course of their day-to-day work of serving women facing unplanned pregnancy, pregnancy help centers have been serving human trafficking victims as well.

Like abortion, human trafficking is a violation of the sanctity of human life, and the awareness of this scourge is starting to catch up with its prevalence. 

Pregnancy help centers and medical clinics are in a unique position to make a difference through the services they provide and partnerships they have established in their communities. 

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Experts say traffickers often bring their victims to pregnancy centers for free pregnancy ultrasounds and to avoid hospital emergency rooms, making pregnancy centers a ‘first responder’ on the front lines of this crisis.

PHOs that are combatting human trafficking may be reserved about the actions they take to serve these victims because drawing attention to what they do could put their efforts, clients, and staff at risk.

“Pregnancy help centers are vital first responders to this modern slavery,” said Heartbeat International’s Director of Ministry Services Betty McDowell, who has testified on Capitol Hill about the issue. 

“Women contact Option Line and come to pregnancy help organizations because we provide free ultrasounds, we have a safe and caring environment, and we can connect them with on-going support and help,” McDowell said. “This means PHOs are first responders to human trafficking.”

How are they responding?

McDowell said that much of what is now being adopted in ERs and medical clinics in terms of trauma-informed care are things already being done by PHOs - which encompasses pregnancy resource centers (PRCs) and pregnancy medical clinics.

This includes:

  • Building relationships with clients
  • Showing respect for life
  • Showing clients acceptance
  • Showing trustworthiness
  • Practicing transparency with clients
  • Showing care by listening without judgement or negative reactions
  • Having established ability to network with other support agencies

“We are uniquely qualified to help trafficking victims and their unborn children,” McDowell told Pregnancy Help News

Tweet This: Pregnancy help organizations are uniquely qualified to help human trafficking victims and their unborn children.

Pregnancy centers are increasingly seeing the great extent of their role in providing help and hope to female victims of human trafficking, the Charlotte Lozier Institute (CLI) stated in its most recent report on pregnancy centers. 

CLI called trafficking “a form of modern-day slavery that represents a global affliction.” The pro-life research group said too that along with severe health and mental health risks, trafficking is also associated with forced abortion and repeated abortions.

In its survey of the national impact of pro-life pregnancy centers, CLI, the research arm of pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List, cited a 2014 study by nationally renowned human trafficking research expert Laura Lederer, president of Global Centurion, a non-profit that fights human trafficking. 

Lederer’s results showed that while trapped in trafficking: 71 percent of victims got pregnant at least once; 21 percent got pregnant five or more times; 55 percent had at least one abortion; and 30 percent reported multiple abortions. In addition, more than two-thirds of these women (67 percent) contracted some form of sexually transmitted infection or disease (STI/STD) and nearly 70 percent of victims reported physical injuries, most commonly to the head or face. 

PHOs nationwide are learning more about how pregnancy, trafficking and forced abortion intersect, CLI found through its survey, and thus, more are getting formally trained by law enforcement agencies and other experts. More centers are learning to implement procedures and provide critical resources to victims. 

In a 2020 CLI survey of 580 medical and non-medical pregnancy centers, 44 percent of the centers (253 centers) responded to an optional question at the survey’s end regarding their response to human trafficking. 

Of those that responded, 54 percent/137 centers said that their center has received trafficking training, and 39 percent/98 centers said that they had ever provided services to a victim of human trafficking. 

Training and/or providing services could encompass assessing for indicators of trafficking and predatory relationships, partnering with anti-trafficking organizations, practicing a trauma-informed care approach, and posting the national human trafficking resource center hotline, text direction and posters in client bathrooms. 

Heartbeat International has trained hundreds of individuals representing pregnancy help organizations from across the globe on human trafficking in a variety of forums over the last few years.

Heartbeat launched the first course on how to identify and assist trafficking victims designed specifically for pregnancy help organizations in 2018 through its on-line Academy.

Tweet This: Heartbeat launched the 1st human trafficking course for pregnancy help organizations in 2018 through its on-line Academy.

“Because we know trafficking victims are coming to PRCs and PHOs, we work to equip our centers to understand what human trafficking is, how to identify trafficking victims, and what to do when we identify a victim, or even when we suspect we have a potential victim,” McDowell said. “As in other arenas and with other issues, Heartbeat works with experts to create courses that are standardized, comprehensive, and on-going.”

“With the assistance of human trafficking experts, Heartbeat International developed material to prepare pregnancy help centers to understand human trafficking, identify its victims and respond appropriately,” said Dawn Lunsford, director of Heartbeat’s Academy.

“Our on-line Academy is a state-of-the-art learning platform,” Lunsford said, “and the perfect tool for educating on this crucial issue.”

“We are grateful to be a part of increasing awareness about this crisis in centers across the United States,” she said, “and honored to have a hand in training pregnancy help centers to be ready to intervene and save women from this exploitation."

Heartbeat’s training is specifically centered on pregnancy help organizations.

“We use case studies, relating material to everyday applications on the job,” said McDowell, “and find applications in current newsworthy issues, among others, to help our staff understand how they may encounter trafficking in their day-to-day work.”

Heartbeat’s human trafficking training covers:

  • What is human trafficking?  
  • Definitions of human trafficking including sex trafficking, labor trafficking, domestic servitude
  • Examples, Case studies, cases of human trafficking in PRCs
  • The prevalence of human trafficking in the U.S. 
  • The physical and mental health consequences of human trafficking
  • Why Pregnancy Resource Centers and Helping Organizations need to know about human trafficking
  • Making the harm visible (meaning of force, fraud and coercion)
  • How human trafficking may be encountered in a PRC or PHO
  • Indicators of human trafficking 
  • PRC success stories in addressing trafficking - saving mother and unborn child 
  • Other important ways to respond – connecting with community; connecting, when mandated, with law enforcement
  • Responding appropriately: What to do if human trafficking victim is suspected but not confirmed
  • The 4 Rs of Responding: Referral, Reporting, Resources, Research

All members of Heartbeat International’s Medical Impact team complete the training as part of their onboarding process. And all centers joining the Abortion Pill Rescue Network (APRN) are asked to complete the training.

In addition to its Academy course for pregnancy help centers, Heartbeat has included human trafficking presentations at its Annual Pregnancy Help conference, a mainstay pregnancy help event attended by hundreds in the movement each year, drawing upon the knowledge and experience of experts in this area for the Conference presentations.

Workshops on human trafficking have been included as part of Heartbeat’s conference program since 2017, raising awareness on the issue to pregnancy help leaders from around the world.

At its 2019 Annual Conference Heartbeat hosted an all-day intensive session on trafficking for medical professionals working at pregnancy help organizations. 

At the 2020 Virtual Conference Heartbeat hosted two-hour in-depth session for medical professionals and pregnancy help leaders.

Lederer is also a presenter at Heartbeat’s 2021 Annual Pregnancy Help Conference, scheduled for April 27-30 in Columbus, OH.

Pregnancy help personnel continue to enroll in the human trafficking course through Heartbeat’s Academy and Heartbeat continually assists centers in preparing to serve these individuals - including working with experts to update material to ensure the training provides the most up-to-date content.

“This kind of information, education and equipping is so important that we include - and update - the training in our academy and at our Conference,” McDowell said. 

As awareness grows, so will the opportunity to serve the victims of human trafficking, and just as they do with women and families facing unplanned pregnancy, pregnancy help organizations stand ready to serve them.

Editor's note: Heartbeat International manages the Abortion Pill Rescue Network and Pregnancy Help News. Heartbeat affiliates can access human trafficking resources via the Heartbeat Services website. For information on becoming an affiliate and obtaining access to resources, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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