Baylor College of Medicine Anti-Human Trafficking Program

Recognize Respond Refer - Human Trafficking Program
The Baylor College of Medicine Anti-Human Trafficking Program trains healthcare providers to recognize victims of human trafficking, respond appropriately, and refer to available services.

In collaboration with the City of Houston Mayor's Office, the Office of the Governor of Texas, and community partners, the Baylor College of Medicine Anti-Human Trafficking Program was created in 2016 to respond to the urgent needs of Houston-area victims and survivors of human trafficking. The mission of the program is to facilitate trauma-informed and collaborative identification, care coordination, and study of patients who are current or prior victims of labor and sex trafficking. Through this program, we have established a system that works toward integrating hospital psychiatric services with other healthcare disciplines to better address the bio-psycho-social needs of human trafficking victims.

Program Goals

  • To train healthcare providers and members of the community to better identify and advocate for human trafficking victims
  • To address the medical, psychiatric and social needs of victims of human trafficking
  • To advocate for and connect human trafficking victims to available hospital and community resources
  • To contribute to the limited body of medical and psychiatric research regarding human trafficking victims

Recognize: What Is Human Trafficking?

Human trafficking is a horrendous human rights violation with serious medical and mental health consequences. Human trafficking is defined as the “recruitment, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability … for the purposes of exploitation” (United Nations, 2000).

It has been estimated that over 40 million people are victims of human trafficking worldwide (ILO, 2017). A 2016 study conducted by the Institute on Domestic and Sexual Violence at The University of Texas at Austin estimated 313,000 reported labor trafficking and minor sex trafficking cases in Texas alone (Busch Armendariz, 2016). 

Texas ranked second only to California in the nation in the number of reported human trafficking cases per state and Houston had the highest reported number of trafficking cases for cities (Busch-Armendariz, 2016).

Given Houston's status as a major hub of human trafficking, Houston-area hospital providers are likely to encounter victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking in the course of primary, specialty or emergency care of patients of all ages.

Healthcare providers at Houston-area hospitals and clinics are in a unique position to identify human trafficking victims who arrive in need of medical care. Houston’s Ben Taub Hospital is part of the Harris Health System, which functions as a safety net for low-income and uninsured Harris County residents, including those in need of acute medical, surgical and psychiatric care, inpatient stabilization, and outpatient continuity clinics.

Located in world’s largest medical center, Ben Taub Hospital is recognized as one of the busiest trauma centers in the United States, offering 586 licensed inpatient beds in addition to the area’s only 24/7 psychiatric emergency room. The Ben Taub Emergency Center and inpatient units, and Harris Health System integrated care clinics provide healthcare for thousands of patients annually. We know that human trafficking victims are often pushed into vulnerable circumstances by socioeconomic marginalization and poor access to services and care (Kerr, 2016). Thus, patients served through the Harris Health System may experience circumstances that could increase their risk of being trafficked compared to other populations in the Houston area.

How to Respond

  • An estimated 88 percent of survivors reported seeing a healthcare professional during the time that they were trafficked (Lederer, 2014).
  • A medical setting is a safe, controlled and well-monitored setting that can provide a unique opportunity to advocate for potential victims.
  • Health problems are common among victims of human trafficking and may include physical injuries, reproductive health issues, acute and chronic conditions, and problems related to mental health.
  • Economic instability, trauma and substance abuse may further complicate the clinical picture.

For more information on how to respond to a suspected case of human trafficking, please contact us:

Phone: (713) 397-1785


Studies suggest that even basic training by providers can increase effectiveness in identifying these patients and making proper referrals on their behalf. However, currently there are no outcomes-based curriculum for educating student physicians on human trafficking and the education of healthcare providers on human trafficking remains inconsistent. Thus, the recognition, referral and access to care for these patients is lacking.

The Baylor College of Medicine Anti-Human Trafficking Program seeks to address the limitations in training providers in addressing the needs of human trafficking patients through the Ben Taub Hospital Anti-Human Trafficking Training Program. Our program was created in part to respond to the call of action proposed by one our program’s founders (Coverdale, et. al, 2016).

The Anti-Human Trafficking Training Program aims to improve the competence and confidence of Ben Taub healthcare providers to identify and care for human trafficking patients. This training program will allow providers to better:

  • Understand the basics of human trafficking
  • Understand human trafficking operations
  • Understand the role of healthcare providers in the recognition, response and referral of human trafficking patients.

For more information regarding training for you or your organization or to request a speaker, please contact us:

Phone: (713) 397-1785

Refer to Available Services

We are able to offer our patients a variety of low-cost (often free) services through the Harris Health System network of hospitals and integrated care community health clinics, as well as through our community partners. Our program staff work collaboratively with current victims and past survivors of human trafficking to address their specific needs. Patients can be self-referred or referred by others.

Services offered through our program include but are not limited to:

  • Case Management
  • Advocacy
  • Medical Services
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Counseling Services
  • Substance Abuse Services
  • Social Services
  • Legal Services
  • Anti-Human Trafficking Training Workshops

For more information regarding available services, please contact us:

Phone: (713) 397-1785

Program Staff

John H. Coverdale, M.D., Executive Director

Professor, The Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Mollie R. Gordon, M.D., Medical Director

Assistant Professor, The Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Phuong T. Nguyen, Ph.D., Program Director

Assistant Professor, The Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Mary Reissinger, Psy.D.

Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow, The Menninger Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences

Katherine Robichaux, LMSW

Program Clinical Case Manager, Harris Health System 

Hilary Chala, BCC

Program Chaplain, Harris Health System


Article 3, Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, Supplementing, the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime. United Nations, 2000.

Busch-Armendariz N., Nale N, Kammer-Kerwick M, Kellison B, Torres M, Heffron L, Nehme J. Human Trafficking by the Numbers: The Initial Benchmark of Prevalence and Economic Impact for Texas. Report produced by The University of Texas at Austin, School of Social Work, Institute on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, 2016.

Coverdale J, Beresin EV, Louie AK, Balon R, Roberts LW. Human Trafficking and Psychiatric Education: A Call to Action. Acad Psychiatry. 2016;40:119–23.

Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage. Report produced by the International Labour Office (ILO), Geneva, 2017.

Kerr PL. Treating trauma in the context of human trafficking: intersections of psychological, social and cultural factors. In: Ghafoori B, Caspi Y, Smith S, editors. International Perspectives on Traumatic Stress. 2016:199-221.

Lederer LJ, Wetzel CA. The Health Consequences of Sex Trafficking and Their Implications for Identifying Victims in Healthcare Facilities. Annals Health Law. 2014; 23:61-91.

Selected Publications by Baylor Anti-Human Trafficking Program

Gordon MR, Salami TK, Coverdale JH, Nguyen PT. Psychiatry’s role in the management of human trafficking victims: an integrated care approach. Journal of Psychiatric Practice (in press).

Nguyen PT, Coverdale JH, Gordon MR. Identifying, treating, and advocating for human trafficking victims: A key role for psychiatric inpatient units. Gen Hosp Psychiatry. 2017 May;46:41-43. PMID: 28622814.

Nguyen PT, Lamkin J, Coverdale JH, Scott S, Li K, Gordon MR. Identifying Human Trafficking Victims on a Psychiatry Inpatient Service: a Case Series. Psychiatr Q. 2017 Oct 2. PMID: 28971296.

Salami TK, Nguyen PT, Coverdale JH, Gordon MR. What Therapies are Favored in the Treatment of the Psychological Sequelae of Trauma in Human Trafficking Victims? Journal of Psychiatric Practice (in press).

Additional Readings and Resources on Human Trafficking

Bespalova N, Morgan J, Coverdale J. A pathway to freedom: an evaluation of screening tools for the identification of trafficking victims. Acad Psychiatry. 2016 Feb;40(1):124-8.

Gibbons P, Stoklosa H. Identification and treatment of human trafficking victims in the emergency department: a case report. J Emerg Med. 2016 May;50(5):715-9.

HEAL Trafficking: Health, Education, Advocacy, Linkage.

International Labor Organization. Profits and Poverty: The Economics of Forced Labour. 2014.

Macias-Konstantopoulos W. Human trafficking: the role of medicine in interrupting the cycle of abuse and violence. Ann Intern Med. 2016 Oct 18;165(8):582-8.

Oram S, Stöckl H, Busza J, Howard LM, Zimmerman C. Prevalence and risk of violence and the physical, mental, and sexual health problems associated with human trafficking: systematic review. PLoS Med. 2012;9(5):e1001224.

Polaris Project.

The Minderoo Foundation Pty Ltd. The Global Slavery Index 2016.

United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime. Human Trafficking.

Zimmerman C, Hossain M, Watts C. Human trafficking and health: a conceptual model to inform policy, intervention and research. Soc Sci Med. 2011 Jul;73(2):327-35.

Zimmerman C, Hossain M, Yun K, et al. The health of trafficked women: a survey of women entering posttrafficking services in Europe. Am J Public Health. 2008 Jan;98(1):55-9.


We’d like to acknowledge and thank all of our community partners who we rely on so heavily to carry out this work.

Community Partners:

  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • Harris Health System
  • City of Houston Mayor's Office
  • United Against Human Trafficking
  • The Landing
  • The Salvation Army - Greater Houston Area
  • Rescue Houston

Grant Funders

The Baylor College of Medicine Human Trafficking Program is made possible by generous grants from:

  • Verizon Foundation
  • Office of the Governor of Texas, Criminal Justice Division (General Victim Assistance Program)