Human trafficking is a kind of modern day slavery. Due to the illusive and violent nature of the crime, human trafficking is extremely hard to accurately quantify. Statistics Canada data between 2009 and 2014 showed there were 396 victims, however experts working to combat trafficking believe these numbers grossly underestimate the number of people who are trafficked. Most human trafficking victims will need health care at some point in their exploitation, suffering from emotional trauma, physical, and sexual abuse. Hence more than social services or police services, health care is the place where most persons who are trafficked can be identified.
Forensic Health Science instructor, Tara Wilkie is one of the three lead forensic nurse examiners with Fraser Health Authority in BC specialized in Human Trafficking. “We know this is an epidemic,” says Wilkie, “and is much greater than we even understand.” Wilkie says many trafficking victims “look like any other patient that comes into the emergency department.”
But there are some “red flags” the B.C.-based nurse says. Persons who are trafficked can be going through an illness from a neglected injury, like broken bones, bruises, and burn marks, she says. Other signs such as mental health issues, sexually transmitted infections, being monitored on their phone, or ankle bracelet monitoring, etc. are indicators of the patients possibly are victims of human trafficking. At Fraser Health in B.C., Tara Wilkie says once you’ve gained the trust of someone who has been trafficked, connecting them to those services can finally begin — by guiding them through the medical system, by starting the conversation with police, or shelters. It’s all about bridging the gaps that are hard to navigate on their own, she says.
As an effort to educate health care professionals and the general public, Tara and two of her colleagues designed and implemented a module for recognition of human trafficking for Fraser Health Authority and it is now accessible nationally.
Read more at CBC News’ Health-care workers learning to combat the ‘epidemic’ of human trafficking; and Fraser Health’s Online Learning Module in how to identify patients who have been trafficked.