Police, hospital team up to help sex trafficking survivors

A first-of-its kind partnership between St. Joseph's Health Care and the London police allows survivors of human trafficking to get physical, medical, forensic and psychological needs met in a supportive environment.

The partnership between London police and St. Joe's is dedicated to meeting survivors' unique needs

A unique partnership between London police and St. Joseph's Health Care treats survivors of human trafficking with trauma-informed care. (Melissa Renwick/Toronto Star)

The needs of survivors of human trafficking are unique. 

A partnership between St. Joseph's Health Care and the London police aims to meet those needs while considering the trauma those who have escaped sex trafficking have experienced. 

"Historically, victims of trafficking have been taken to the emergency room, where the treatment is good but the wait can be long," said Dr. Susan McNair, the medical director of the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program, which teamed up with London police in March. 

The program sees about 300 individuals a year who have been victims of sexual assault or domestic violence. It's impossible to pinpoint how many of those have been victims of trafficking — some victims don't think of themselves as having been trafficked, or they don't disclose what's happened to them. 

Since the partnership began in the spring, the centre has seen four women or girls who had just escaped sex trafficking. 

"We want them to, at the very early stage in their escape, begin the recovery process," McNair said. "Individuals who come to us are victims of significant trauma — psychological trauma and sexual violence — and they come to us with a vast array of trauma, bruises, abrasions, lacerations and even fractures." 

Helping with recovery from beginning

The team is made up of three full-time nurses, four part-time nurses, and sexual assault nurse examiners who are trained in trauma and sexual violence. There are also five family doctors, a nurse practitioner and social workers who work with the survivors. 

The program has two exam rooms, counselling rooms and a waiting room. St. Joe's administrators are setting up an interview room for police to use, so women can be interviewed on site, instead of having to be taken to the London police station. 

"The long haul is what they need," said McNair. "Sexual violence, by its very nature, takes away control from the very beginning, and we need to give (survivors) back that control. We need to let them know that we'll be there to follow up on the STI testing, that we'll be there for primary care needs, and we'll be there for the longer term in terms of psychological care." 

About the Author

Kate Dubinski


Kate Dubinski is a radio and digital reporter with CBC News in London, Ont. You can email her at kate.dubinski@cbc.ca.