CARE THAT PACKS A PUNCH
Away from the bustle, noise and bright lights of the emergency ward at Surrey Memorial Hospital, there is a room with soft yellow walls, plants and a painting of beach grass. With controlled access, it is secure and feels like a quiet sanctuary. This is where patients who show signs they may be trafficked are brought for care.
It’s a new approach being taken in British Columbia’s second biggest city by forensic nurses at the hospital. They have been trained both how best to treat people who have been subjected to violence and how to give testimony in court.
They also have developed Canada’s first online tool kit to help emergency workers detect and assist victims. Front-line health-care providers are often the first point of contact with victims of trafficking. The list of what they see is lengthy: evidence of sexual violence, burns, bite marks and bruises (all usually hidden by clothing), as well as tattoos used as branding, sexually transmitted infections, miscarriages, unwanted pregnancies, pneumonia, overdoses, post-traumatic stress syndrome, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, addiction. (They’ve also witnessed how traffickers track girls by their cellphones and, at least in one case, an ankle bracelet equipped with GPS.)
But even if there is no physical evidence, illness and violence are so pervasive that, eventually, “trafficking will produce a health consequence,” says Tara Wilkie of the Surrey Memorial forensic team.
Patients are provided with support after leaving the hospital, but Ms. Wilkie says the after-effects of trafficking can leave someone with lifelong physical and mental-health issues.
Bridget Perrier seems to be living proof of this. As she sits on the couch of her Toronto home, phone buzzing, two dogs scampering around, pictures of her children on the wall, her old life seems like the distant past. Yet, she says, a decade of sexual exploitation “damaged me to a point where ... I have panic attacks. I have PTSD. I can’t have a baby naturally because my cervix is just shot. I sleep with the lights on. I’m hypervigilant.”
Now a social worker and ‘survivor champion’ in Toronto, Bridget Perrier is still haunted by her former life: ‘I can’t be on an elevator with a Caucasian man.’ (May Truong for The Globe and Mail)
And there are flashbacks. “Sometimes a smell will set me off, gagging.” Pine-Sol, used to disinfect the rooms, “triggers it.” As do “certain male colognes, certain deodorants.”
Also damaged: her relationship with others. She says her clientele was so predominantly white that, even today “I can’t be on an elevator with a Caucasian man.”
Such psychological signs of trafficking can be quite unsettling.
“We see a lot of very subservient behaviour,” says Larissa Maxwell, manager of anti-trafficking programs at Deborah’s Gate, the Vancouver safe house that is Canada’s first high-security sanctuary for trafficking survivors.
She says residents ask permission to do the simplest things, such as going to the bathroom or just sitting down.
Run by the Salvation Army, Deborah’s Gate works with up to 150 victims a year, almost half of whom are aboriginal, providing both residential and outreach programs, along with such services as therapy and job training.
Published on February 10, 2016