In October 2015, a young doctor known as Dr. A couldn't help but roll his eyes when he read that his next patient claimed to have a GPS tracker implanted in her side. After all, he was accustomed to seeing psychiatric patients. Upon examining the patient, however, he learned of an often-unseen danger he nearly disregarded. 

According to an interview with Marketplace, Dr. A was astounded to find the patient was not only lucid but had an incision to back up her claims. He recalls: “Embedded in the right side of her flank is a small metallic object only a little bit larger than a grain of rice — 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.”

Apparently, the twentysomething woman had become embroiled in human trafficking, with her boyfriend pimping her out and taking the money she "earned" for having sex. The tracker was a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip not unlike one used to tag pets, highlighting how inhumanely she had been treated. 

The Office on Tracking In Persons defines human trafficking as "a form of modern-day slavery ... a crime involving the exploitation of someone for the purpose of compelled labor or a commercial sex act through the use of force, fraud, or coercion." According to the International Labour Organization, an estimated 20.9 million people worldwide are victims of human trafficking — forced into industries such as (but not limited to) prostitution, domestic labor, construction, agriculture, and manufacturing.

While cases of  human trafficking are generally addressed by law enforcement, medical professionals are in a unique position to help break this cycle of modern-day slavery. Marketplace notes that 87.8 percent of human trafficking victims come into contact with health care providers at some point while being trafficked, and Wendy Macias, an ER doctor at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, tells Marketplace: “I can guarantee you that I’ve placed my hands (on) and I’ve examined and I’ve spoken to more trafficking victims than I know I have.”

To break the cycle, organizations such as Heal Trafficking, Polaris, and the Office on Tracking In Persons are spreading awareness so that medical professionals can recognize the signs of human trafficking and extend help to victims. The American Medical Association released a policy dedicated to educating health care providers on how to recognize and properly report instances of suspected human trafficking.

Ever since discovering that tracking chip in his patient, Dr. A has taken each case of suspected human trafficking with far less levity. “It’s always important to simply consider the possibility that something not obvious might be going on. And recognizing that is the first step to diagnose it,” he tells Marketplace.