Several years ago, Tara Wilkie, a BCIT Nursing alumna and Instructor for Forensic Health Sciences, traveled to northern Thailand to help establish a medical clinic for tribal children who were victims of sex trafficking. The number of victims and children at risk shocked her.
“I remember feeling an extreme sense of relief when I landed [back in Canada],” says Tara, a Registered Nurse with the Fraser Health Authority. After returning home from Thailand, she enrolled in the then-called Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program at BCIT to learn more.
“It was through the program as well as my employment at the Fraser Health Authority, that I began to realize that trafficking was a huge problem here. I just hadn’t seen it,” says Tara. “I actually had in my mind that trafficking was just a problem that happened in a third world.”
Hiding in plain sight
According to Statistics Canada, between 2009 and 2014, there were 396 victims of human trafficking. Experts believe that number is significantly higher.
“What we know is 88 per cent of trafficked persons are accessing healthcare at some point in time when they are in the trafficking process, and they’re not being recognized as such,” says Tara. “And so they’re being returned back into the hands of their trafficker.”
This puts healthcare providers at a crucial intervention point.
Putting trafficking in focus
“We might be the only healthcare provider or the only person outside of the trafficking process that a trafficked person comes into contact with. We need to know how to intervene and we need to know how to respond appropriately.”
That’s why Tara, trained as a Forensic Nurse Examiner, and two of her colleagues joined forces. Their goal: To train healthcare professionals and the general public and help them respond to human trafficking. Together, they designed and implemented a ground-breaking online training module. Its purpose is to improve the identification and response to human trafficking for the Fraser Health Authority. It is now available globally.
“As healthcare providers, we deal with health consequences but we can also help with judicial outcomes,” says Tara. “We need to start bridging the gaps between healthcare, law enforcement, and the judicial system. We can collect forensic evidence, which we can give to the police, and we can testify as expert witnesses.”
Tara’s work has helped raise awareness and understanding of human trafficking among health professionals. With training, they are able to better identify potential victims and help those in need.
“People are struggling and they need our help,” says Tara. “If we change our thought process [from] ‘why are they doing that’ to ‘how can we help you’, we will be much more successful in prevention and intervention.”
As an Instructor for BCIT Forensic Science and Technology, Tara is the recipient of the 2018 BCIT Faculty and Staff Association Distinguished Alumni Award.