By Mitzi Perdue
What you’re about to read is a composite case. Even so, a composite case has value because the issues it raises are real and the solutions it embraces could become a pattern for other communities.
The composite story comes from Dr. Angela Diaz, Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center in New York City. All the details described have happened to real people, although we are not using a real name.
A Composite Case
Alicia is 16. She’s been trafficked up and down the Eastern Corridor. She has a sexually transmitted infection, she’s depressed, and her infected molar is making her miserable
Unfortunately, as often happens with trafficked people, she faced enormous obstacles for getting medical care. Among her problems, she doesn’t have:
ïThe kind of structured life where she could plan ahead to keep a doctor’s appointment.
On top of that, although she was experiencing mental, dental and STD problems while being trafficked in New York City, she wasn’t a resident of the city. With no papers and no residency, what were her chances of getting the medical care she so badly needed?
Resources Are Available
Alicia’s story has an encouraging ending. According to Dr. Diaz, the MSAHC is able to handle each one of Alicia’s problems.
For a start, it doesn’t matter that Alicia wasn’t a New Yorker. “We know that a person who’s been trafficked, may have been forced to travel, and as a result, may not have an address or ID or medical records,” says Diaz. “Here at Mount Sinai, we don’t have a catchment area. If she is between ages 10-26 and comes in, we’ll care for her.”
It also didn’t matter that Alicia couldn’t pay. As Diaz says, and you can hear the pride in her voice as she says it, “For the 12,000 young people we serve, everything is provided at no cost to them.” Therefore, it didn’t matter that Alicia had no money or health insurance.
What about her inability to plan ahead for a doctor’s appointment? Diaz answers, “We are very flexible, we know if you are been trafficked you don’t have control of your life. Instead, young people can just walk in here during hours of operation for services.”
Alicia had an array of medical and social problems. The good news for her was that once the young woman arrived at the facility, specialists were available to her almost immediately.
They were able to treat her STD, her infected and abscessed molar, and also her depression. If she had had eye problems or even legal problems, specialists would have been available to her without her having to leave the facility.
What Happened Next?
Alicia had originally come in because a girl she’d met on the street told her, “The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is free and the people there are really nice. They’ll help you.”
At first, she was hesitant even to come. The man who was exploiting her had told her to be afraid of anyone who offered her help. He had persuaded her that no one would believe her, and worse, he could find her parents and kill them if she tried to escape.
It took time and several visits for the personnel at the Center to gain her trust and enable her to believe that they really were there to help her. Finally, she trusted the new people in her life enough to break away from her trafficker.
The Center helped her find a residential program Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS). While she still relied on the Center to help her with medical care and psychological counseling, GEMS enabled her to get her GED.
At GEMS, she met role models, women who had escaped “the life.” For her it was healing and inspiring to see women who had been through what she had been through who now had jobs and happiness and a life that was almost normal.
Diaz’s goal is to help all the young people she can, whether trafficked or not. “To do well in life,” she says, “you have to be healthy and you have to be educated. The two are intertwined. You can’t get an education if you aren’t healthy enough to be able to learn. Our goal is to find the barriers to health services and education and remove them.”
Fortunately, the program has had impressive success. “More than 50% of the young people we help go to college, and some have even gone beyond to get a Ph.D,” she says.
For more information, visit www.teenhealthcare.org, or call 212-423-3000 for an appointment. The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located at 312 E. 94th St., Manhattan and welcomes all young people ages 10-26, regardless of immigration or insurance status, or ability to pay.
Mitzi Perdue is founder of the Anti-Trafficking organization, Win This Fight, and author of 52 TIPS FOR PREVENTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING. Contact her at Mitzi@WinThisFight.org or call her at 410 860-4444