Helping victims of child sex trafficking regain confidence, one smile at a time

For February, National Children’s Dental Health Awareness Month, CO4Kids reached out to pediatric dentist campaign partners to feature the role they play in identifying, reporting and preventing child abuse and neglect as mandatory reporters. A study by the American Association of Pediatrics states craniofacial, head, face, and neck injuries occur in more than half of child abuse cases.‍ Dentists play a vital role in being a voice for a child who may need help.

Victims of child sex trafficking often hide in plain sight. However, community members who are aware of the signs of trafficking can be highly effective in combatting this heinous crime as well as other forms of child abuse. A Lyft driver who consistently drops off and picks up young girls or boys at a hotel, a teacher who notices a student without a lot of means who now has two phones, or parents who see that their once-motivated student has turned sullen, moody and private are all seeing potential signs of child abuse and/or child sex trafficking.

Child sex trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, including Colorado. It happens to all genders, and it’s up to each community member to learn the signs and report them. Even a dentist can be on the front lines for identifying signs and helping authorities prevent these crimes. The AAP cites that more than one-quarter of children who are victims of human trafficking will see a healthcare professional while in captivity. One local dentist, Hamid Khanjari, D.D.S. of Signature Dentistry, has taken this role very seriously.

“During the initial dental exam, you can tell a lot about what is going on with someone,” said Dr. Khanjari. “I have seen enough kids now to know when something just isn’t right, including fingerprint bruising around the head and neck or a jaw that is out of place. As a dentist, I understand it is a crucial – and indeed legally required – part of my job to report suspected abuse.”

But Dr. Khanjari is doing a lot more than just reporting his concerns when he sees signs. He and his business partner, David Bennett, D.D.S., have chosen to donate their time and skill to help victims of child sex trafficking by fixing their teeth and recovering their smiles.

Dr. Khanjari believes that, "The smile is the first piece of the puzzle to helping these children rebuild their lives." In partnership with the nonprofit Extended Hands of Hope, which is committed to seeing survivors of sex trafficking thrive, Drs. Khanjari and Bennett are helping these kids move forward in their lives with hope and dignity.

One patient,  Joy*, had biological parents who lost custody of her due to their drug addiction. Joy eventually ran away from her foster home and was taken in by a “family” who slowly groomed her to sell sexual acts while she was under the age of 18. The "family" she ran to became her child sex traffickers. By the time she was discovered, recovered and came to Dr. Khanjari, Joy had had little-to-no dental care and little reason to smile. After a series of dental restorations, fillings and crowns, Joy has a smile to match her now bright and hopeful personality.

To report suspected child abuse and neglect including suspected child sex trafficking, call the Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Hotline at 1-844-CO-4-Kids (1-844-264-5437). If you suspect a child is in immediate danger, dial 911. To learn more about the signs of child abuse, neglect or child sex trafficking, visit CO4Kids.org.

*The name of the child sex trafficking victim has been changed in order to protect privacy.

Source: American Association of Pediatrics, Oral and Dental Aspects of Child Abuse and Neglect, 2017

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Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
1-844-CO-4-KIDS (1‑844‑264‑5437)
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Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.