Human trafficking is a global crisis. Dignity Health is innovating how it's fought.
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Dignity Health

Human trafficking is one of the most devastating human rights crises the world faces today.

All pictures courtesy of Dignity Health.

According to the International Labour Organization, more than 40 million people are victims of human trafficking around the world. And more than three quarters of these victims are women and children who are forced into labor in many different industries — including sex work.


Tragically, this crisis may only be getting worse. Human trafficking is a lucrative business, bringing in more than $150 billion in profits annually. While organizations worldwide are working to end this pandemic, they'll only be successful with the help of people who know what human trafficking is and what to do if they suspect someone's fallen victim to it.

Unfortunately, many of us don't know how to spot the signs of human trafficking. And yes, this includes doctors.

Though victims of human trafficking often require medical attention and seek aid at their local hospital, health professionals aren't always aware that their patients may be dealing with trauma beyond their physical injuries.

As a result, many victims are discharged without being offered the support and services they so desperately need.

Dignity Health is at the forefront of changing this narrative. The medical services company is employing survivors of human trafficking to advocate for those that need help.

"Survivors now know that the hospital is a safe place," says Christine Cesa, a survivor advocate with the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

Cesa works at Dignity Health's California Medical Center twice a week educating staff members and providing support to fellow survivors.

As a survivor of human trafficking herself, Cesa is uniquely qualified to support people who are victims of human trafficking. And her connection with patients is the first step towards healing.

“The patients respond to me because I come at them with a lot of empathy, care and concern," she says.

"Dignity Health values survivors," says Holly Smith Gibb, the program director of Dignity Health's Human Trafficking Response, who's also a survivor.

“If there was a survivor who was part of the law enforcement and healthcare team that was trying to connect with me it would have made all the difference."

But employing survivors is just one part of Dignity Health's commitment to stopping human trafficking.

Since 2014, the company has worked tirelessly to ensure that no victim of trafficking is overlooked at their facilities.

From providing more training to medical center staff to adding procedures that make it easier for all medical staff to identify and report human trafficking to employing survivors like Cesa, Dignity Health is fighting human trafficking on an individual, community, and systemic level.

It's a model that's working well, so the company hopes that it will soon be put to use in hospitals throughout the nation.

Advocates like Cesa are transforming the way that medical professionals view and respond to human trafficking.

At the medical center where Cesca is employed, the staff is more attuned to what their patients are going through, more eager to help them escape dangerous situations and empower them to embark on safe, happy lives.

And being an advocate has given Cesa a greater sense of purpose, because she can see the impact she's having on patients. She's grateful to be able to use her difficult experiences to help others every day.

“Even though there are hard, emotional days...I go home and feel like, I don't ever want to stop doing this. 'Cause we're helping people," she says.

Learn more about Cesa's work and Dignity Health's human trafficking initiatives in the video below.

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Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."

Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.

"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."

While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.

I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."

It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.

"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.

Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.

"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.

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Did you know that the simple act of smiling can trick your brain into feeling better, improve your health, and even help you live longer? It's true. Science says.

If you're looking for a reason to smile, here are ten of them.

1. The way this grandma says, "I'm so happy to see you!"

A young woman shared that her grandma always comes to check on her when she hasn't come out of her room for a while. "You want some food???" This is just too wholesome. Watch the whole thing.


2. These two geese were mesmerized by a man playing harmonica in a Taipei park.

Qiqi and Fanfan are into it, y'all. Listen to them try to join in a few times.

3. Ryan Reynolds and a special guest singing six-part harmony? Yes, please.

The Grace Kelly TikTok challenge had people singing the chorus to Mika's 2007 song "Grace Kelly" with various harmonies. I won't give away the cameo here, in case you haven't seen it yet. So fun. Read more about it here.

4. This dad knew his daughter was a prankster, and yet she managed to trick him anyway.

Aryanna's got skills. Dad knows she's got skills. The way he immediately looks all around for traps and still gets surprised. That grin on her face, too. So dang funny. Read the full story here.

5. Norm MacDonald's heartwarming advice to a fan who lost his mother.

The iconic comedian's passing at 61 came as a surprise, but his advice for how to handle grief is a lesson for us all: "Take all the love you have for her, Pablo, and give it freely to all that you meet. Your mom will look down upon you, happy and proud."

6. A Portland cat cafe reopened, and all the cats up for adoption got homes in less than a day.

First of all, the cafe is called Purrington's. I mean, come on. Second of all, it's a cafe where you can hang out with cats that need homes, which is awesome. The cafe had hit some snags in recent years with COVID restrictions and whatnot, but on the day of its reopening, every cat got a home. Yay for the kitties. Read the full story here.


7. This is seriously the greatest "walk of shame" I've ever seen.

At first, you're thinking, "Why is that guy walking into a park pond?" Then it's, "Ooooh. I see." Then finally, "OMG that right there is what living life to its fullest looks like."

8. The U.S. is reportedly buying 500 million more vaccines to donate to the rest of the world.

We're all in this together, literally. The only way we're going to get the pandemic under control is to make sure everyone has access to COVID vaccines. The need is great, but we're stepping up to help meet it. Love to see the U.S. taking leadership on this front.

Read the full story here.

Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash


9. New Zealand firefighters offer a Haka to honor the first responders who perished on 9/11.

Okay, this one might make you smile and cry at the same time. Such a beautiful offering and reminder of how connected we all are.

10. Watch this street photographer help an elderly Italian woman see her own beauty.

Dino Serrao's TikTok channel is the place to go when you want to be reminded of the unique beauty in every human being. All of his videos are great, but this one is so heartwarming. Their interaction is so sweet, but her recognizing her own gorgeousness after initially telling him she didn't want her picture taken is just wonderful.


I hope that brought a little joy and hope into your day! Come back to Upworthy again next Friday for ten more reasons to smile. :)