A professor of nursing at Rutgers University-Camden is pushing a plan to help victims of human trafficking in the Garden State.

Renee Cantwell said she became aware about the human trafficking problem in the state through an emergency room nurse who had suspected one of her own patients was a sex slave.

Cantwell said she conducted what amounted to an informal poll, asking nurses across New Jersey whether they were aware of human trafficking.

“Most of them did not know how to recognize a victim and most of the organizations in which they worked did not offer any education of training in this area,” she said.

“We are trying to educate as many nurses as possible about how to recognize victims of human trafficking.”

Cantwell said there are several signs that may indicate the person being given medical treatment is victim of human trafficking.

“If the victim comes in with another person, is that person doing all the talking? Like when a nurse would ask a question — how old are you or where do you live — is the person reticent to speak in front of the handler, the trafficker that is bringing the person in?”

She said a strong sign that someone is being trafficked is if they tell a nurse that they live at the same location where they are working.

She noted if the patient appears to be very nervous about discussing family, “this could be the trafficker is telling them they’re going to harm their family if they don’t do what they’re told to do.”

She said another sign of a possible human trafficking situation is tattoos.

“Many times traffickers will tattoo their victim so everyone knows who that person belongs to.”

And another red flag would be a young girl dressed like more maturely with heavy makeup and revealing clothing.

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Cantwell said if a nurse or any health professional becomes aware that someone is a human trafficking victim, they need to contact authorities immediately.

She said about 1,500 people in 2018 called the New Jersey human trafficking hotline but officials believe the actual number of trafficked victims in the Garden State is much higher than that.

Cantwell is working with the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking to begin trying to spread the word about trafficking awareness to health professionals.

“We need to be aware of this,” she said, “it’s happening right under our noses but we may not recognize it because it’s such a clandestine crime.”

The National Human Trafficking Hotline is 1-888-373-7888.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com