Children and youth who are victims of sex trafficking often experience high levels of trauma, which can have profound negative impacts on their physical, emotional and psychological well-being for decades. When working with these individuals, it is essential for child welfare professionals to recognize this past trauma and create supportive recovery environments.

As a joint program with the Child Protection Team and the Pediatric Emergency Department at Children’s Hospital Colorado, there is now a dedicated team of pediatric and adolescent focused registered nurses who provide comprehensive care to victims of sexual assault and trafficking. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurses provide acute sexual assault care with a trained eye toward the sensitivities of working with adolescents and young adults. They support our young patients through sensitive and timely examinations, connecting patients with legal and mental health resources, infectious disease treatment and more.

We recently connected with Denise Abdoo, PhD, CPNP, SANE-A, SANE-P, who leads the SANE team and asked her to share more about how they work to protect child and youth victims of sex trafficking.

Tell us more about the SANE team.

Currently, there are 13 registered nurses on the SANE team. We require a minimum of two years nursing experience along with additional education and training to be prepared to perform forensic examinations. Additionally, the SANE nurses provide expert witness testimony in court. Our team works closely with local law enforcement agencies and the Colorado Department of Human Services regarding trafficking activities within the community.

How do you know if someone is being trafficked?

When a patient is brought to the hospital or comes in for treatment, they don’t usually tell us they are being sexually exploited. We are trained to ask specific questions and look for signs of trafficking. Sexually exploited youth include male and female patients, from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Many of the sexually exploited youth are identified as high-risk youth, including victims of prior abuse, homeless children, runaways, those who were forced out of the home, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) community, those with a history of substance abuse, prior legal involvement, and those within the foster care or welfare systems.

What can we do if we suspect child sex trafficking in our community?

Recognize it. And then report your concerns to the appropriate authorities. If you are a parent, family member or friend who is concerned that a child is being trafficked – or if you have a suspicion that someone you know is trafficking – you should reach out to your county’s human services department first. You can also call Colorado’s statewide child abuse hotline, 1-800-CO-4-KIDS, and they will connect you to the appropriate resources.