Human Trafficking — Lara's Fight to Save Lives

Human Trafficking. We’ve all heard of it, but how much do we really know about it? Is it really that serious? 

According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2017 there were 8,759 cases of human trafficking that were called and texted in to them. This involved 10,615 individual victims, roughly 5,000 potential traffickers, and almost 1,700 trafficking businesses. 

“It is a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 24.9 million people around the world,” their website states. 

In that same year, the hotline received 1,133 calls and 365 human trafficking cases reported from Ohio. Roughly 79% of those cases were sex trafficking involving adult, US citizen females. The majority of those calls (25%) came from community members, while only 17% of the calls came from victims.


Lara's Fight Against Human Trafficking 


Lara Wilken, MSN, RN, became passionate about human trafficking a few years ago when she took a Women’s Studies class. She began exploring the topic and attending trainings so that she could help educate others. 

Lara oftentimes people don’t think something like this could happen in our area.

“I’ve been doing research for eight years and people used to say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t happen here’,” she said. “But, Toledo, Ohio ranks in the top 5 the United States for phone calls made to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. A misconception Lara Wilken, MSN, RN, displaying her research on Human Trafficking. of human trafficking is that it only occurs overseas; human trafficking happens everywhere.”

As Lara began her fight against human trafficking, she realized there wasn’t a lot of focus on the role of a healthcare provider. In fact, she said 88% of victims who have been recovered stated that they saw a healthcare worker during captivity.

“As a nurse, we see parts we don’t want to see; that patients don’t want me to see,” she said. “But it’s my job to look.”

In thinking about how the traffickers control the victims, it’s not uncommon for people to think that the trafficker doesn’t care about the victim’s health. However, that’s far from the case, Lara indicated.

“Traffickers want to keep the victims healthy,” she said. “If they aren’t healthy, they aren’t making the traffickers money.” 

In October 2019, the American Hospital Association will be releasing diagnostic codes for forced labor and sexual exploitation to the coding system used in the medical profession to identify various health diagnoses.

Lara is now pursuing a doctorate in nursing and Firelands Regional Medical Center is her chosen clinical site where she is working on implementing human trafficking policies and procedures for patients who present to the emergency room and is in the process of having her human trafficking algorithm trademarked.

Bill Turton, director of emergency services for Firelands, said Lara has been helpful in educating all emergency room staff in identifying victims of both sex and labor trafficking.

“Because of the education, we have awareness now and the indicators to identify possible human trafficking victims,” said Turton. “The development of algorithms and policies for staff to follow is important in the case we do identify a victim to get them help.”

Senator Theresa Gavarone (center) recently visited Firelands and met with (form left) Alice Springer, director of development; Lara Wilken; and Jeremy Normington-Slay, president & CEO to discuss human trafficking Lara said one thing she’s learned throughout her research is anyone can be a victim and a victim can look like anyone. The reality is that many times individuals are coerced into this life, not forced. We have to look past issues of addiction and prostitution and truly see the people we are treating.

In addition to her work with Firelands, Lara is the co-chair and medical liason for the Erie County Human Trafficking Task Force and does various speaking and educational presentations around the state.

“I became a nurse initially to help save lives. Ultimately, I want to save people,” she said. “That is why I do this.”

If you suspect someone you know is involved in human trafficking call 911 immediately. You can also contact the confidental 24/7 National Human Trafficking Hotline by calling 888-3737-888, texting 233733 or using the live chat at