“I have a tracker in me,” read the cryptic note, found in triage by a greenhorn doctor — scribbled by a woman in the emergency room.
She claimed to have been implanted with a GPS tracking device of some kind — an assertion not unheard of, but never the less unusual.
Dr. A, anonymous for safety concerns, rolled his eyes — ordinarily, such a note would be a sure indicator of mental illness, for which a psychiatrist would need to be summoned.
But this woman appeared lucid. Sane. Not at all paranoid or delusional.
And she had an incision.
So an x-ray was performed, and medical personnel gathered to view the results. But they stood breathless in disbelief — indeed, while they didn’t find a GPS tracker,
“Embedded in the right side of her flank is a small metallic object only a little bit larger than a grain of rice,” Dr. A recounted for Marketplace’s Dan Gorenstein. “But it's there. It's unequivocally there. She has a tracker in her. And no one was speaking for like five seconds — and in a busy ER that's saying something.”
“It was a small glass capsule with a little almost like a circuit board inside of it,” the 28-year-old doctor.
Shock turned fast to concern when the doctors grasped what the presence of the object signaled about the 20-something woman’s life — and why she’d handed over the bizarre note.
“It's an RFID chip. It's used to tag cats and dogs, And someone had tagged her like an animal, like she was somebody's pet that they owned.”
In fact, the unnamed woman had been treated as a pet — a possession — by her boyfriend, who sold her for sex and pocketed the money she brought back.
She was one of an innumerable amount of victims of human trafficking — a colossal problem in every corner of the globe, including the United States — where Dr. A has residency at a hospital in a ‘major American city,’ Marketplace discreetly noted.
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That modern day slavery is alive and unfortunately booming, even in the U.S., might jar the somnambulant masses — after all, schools rightly cover the nation’s history of antebellum slavery quite thoroughly. But human trafficking and exploitation constitutes a modern iteration of baneful practice.
“Very plainly,” Katherine Chon, director of the newly created Office on Trafficking in Persons at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told Gorenstein, “human trafficking is when one person takes advantage of another person for some profit.”
Sex isn’t the only reason people buy other people — human trafficking sadly staffs a number of industries with forced laborers, from the menial and repetitive tasks of manufacturing, to domestic service.
Under threat of violent punishment — or worse — victims often endure horrific trauma and find it difficult, if not impossible, to alert others to their circumstances for assistance.
That’s where Dr. A and healthcare workers can step in — though law enforcement typically handles allegations of trafficking, observant medical staff might notice psychological and physical signs police would miss. Plus, spending even a brief time in private consultation with a doctor or nurse gives a victim the golden opportunity to speak up.
However, even the best training doesn’t prevent the majority of human trafficking victims from interacting normally — with the public none the wiser. Cagey perpetrators employ a number of tricks to keep from being caught — apparently including the implantation of tracking devices.
“I can guarantee you that I’ve placed my hands and I’ve examined and I’ve spoken to more trafficking victims than I know I have,” Massachusetts General Hospital emergency room doctor, Wendy Macias, told Gorenstein.
With so many victims slipping by unnoticed, the case of the woman with the tracking device should be ‘so disturbing,’ it sounds the alarm for everyone in the healthcare industry, Dr. Dale Carrison at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas explained.
“That was a big wake up call for me personally that ‘Uh-oh we’re going to another level now,’” he said. “And I need to get the word out to all my colleagues, don’t blow this off.”
RFID chips have long been theorized to be potential tools of a totalitarian State — essentially acting as a bar code would to track people’s every move. So disputatious are the devices, in fact, one Nevada lawmaker introduced a bill last month to ban mandatory implantation in humans of RFID chips — violators would be charged with a Class C felony for the alarming transgression.
That dystopian science fiction became reality in an x-ray sent chills down the traditionally-skeptical medical community’s backs.
“There’s so many sci-fi movies where they stick a device in somebody,” Dr. Carrison noted. “Well guess what? It’s real. It happened.”
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