Wendy Damonte: My First-Hand View of Human Trafficking’s Impact in Reno


Wendy Damonte, Vice President of Advocacy and Community Partnerships at Renown, recently served on a panel called “Combating Human Trafficking.” Below, she shares why this concern is important to her, and why it should be to everyone in Reno.

On a recent Saturday morning, I was startled away from a project with my daughter by my phone ringing nearby. It was Melissa Holland, the executive director of Awaken, a not-for-profit organization that helps victims of human trafficking. This is how the conversation went:

“Hi Melissa, how are you?”

“One of our girls is coming to your ER. She’s in bad shape. She was thrown from a moving vehicle by her pimp. We need to protect her.”

As Vice President of Advocacy and Community Partnerships, I get calls from our not-for-profit partners all the time. But none has ever shaken me quite like this one. I called our nursing administrator and let her know we needed to protect the patient and her identity when she arrived.

Melissa texted me a picture of the pimp who hurt the girl. I sent that along to security so they could be on the lookout for him if he entered our facility. Fortunately, he never did. We admitted the victim, treated her both physically and emotionally, and by Sunday, she was ready to be released. Melissa had arranged for her to be flown to a safe house outside of Nevada. Her partners at the airport agreed to quietly escort the victim to her flight Monday morning.

Protecting Victims of Human Trafficking 

It was that experience that seeded my passion to help victims of human trafficking. Hospitals across the nation are seeing these victims in our ERs, urgent cares, and on our labor and delivery floors. We treat these victims for their physical ailments, but oftentimes we miss what’s truly hurting them: The man in the room. The one who answers all questions for her, refuses to let her leave the room without him, the one who handles all paperwork and holds onto her driver’s license. These are all signs the man is a pimp, and the woman is a victim of human trafficking.

In November 2016, Renown Health hosted the first community-wide human trafficking training. More than 600 people over two days learned how to identify a victim, what to do if they suspect the person in front of them is a victim, and how to make sure they also stay safe in such a situation.

Representatives from all local hospitals, law enforcement, members of the Attorney General’s office, the school district, REMSA and local advocates attended the training. We created small pocket guides for our front-line staff to remind them what to do if they are treating a victim. We made more people aware of the horrible fact that human trafficking happens everywhere, including Reno.

Human Trafficking: Training and Education

Earlier this month, Renown joined Awaken, Kimberly Mull Advocacy and the Reno Police Department to continue the conversation and awareness of human trafficking in our area. We hosted a panel discussion headed up by the team from the Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign, which is the national human trafficking awareness and education program. More than 70 people came to hear the panel discussion about federal, state and local efforts to combat this crime.


Melissa Holland was scheduled to be a panelist as well. But late in the evening on the day before the forum, my phone rang again. It was Melissa saying she couldn’t attend the following morning. Her team needed her. One of the girls they had been working with, trying valiantly to get her away from the cruel world of human trafficking, had been murdered. The man police were looking for was her pimp.

I believe this shows that sometimes the best medicine is not medicine at all. It’s about assuring the one’s life is safe. Renown is partnering in this effort to project members of our community from these violent acts.

For more information about Awaken, go to awakenreno.org.