Ottawa clinic to care for victims of human trafficking

A new Ottawa clinic for victims of human trafficking will aim to provide care for those stuck in a cycle of violence, its founding nurse said.

Clinic to open in February will provide 'trauma-informed' care, founding nurse said

A new Ottawa clinic opening in February, 2018, will aim to provide care to victims of human trafficking. (Getty Images/Cultura RF)

A new Ottawa clinic for victims of human trafficking will aim to provide care for those stuck in a cycle of violence, its founding nurse said.

Tara Leach, the nurse practitioner setting up the new clinic, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that providing "trauma-informed" care to patients that have been trafficked is vital.

"[The goal] is provide a safe space that's worthy of their trust and that's able to appeal to their needs in what's called a trauma-informed way," she said.

The clinic will open in February.

'Their needs are not being met'

Human trafficking is a form of exploitation that can include sex trafficking or forced labour, according to a report from the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking (OCEHT).

Research has found victims of human trafficking do access regular clinics and emergency rooms, Leach said, though these services often don't address the root of their problems.

"People do access mainstream clinics or emergency rooms and they're finding that their needs are not being met," she said. "So they might come in, get their prescriptions and leave, but the full root of the problem has not been discussed."

A 2016 OCEHT report identified several barriers human trafficking victims face when accessing the health-care system, including a lack of awareness by health-care practitioners and a lack of ongoing long-term care.

"It's very complex and oftentimes multi-layered," Leach said. "We need to be able to address those health concerns to really be able to take care of these clients fully."

Establishing trust with victims

Leach said medical professionals at the new clinic will work to foster trust with victims, addressing their immediate health needs — such as sexually transmitted infections and psychological distress — while keeping in mind the root cause of their conditions. 

There are about 40 people on the clinic's waiting list already, Leach said. Organizers are hoping to open the downtown clinic by mid-February.

Victims of human trafficking and those at risk of being trafficked are welcome to visit the clinic, Leach said. Victims will not be forced to leave a trafficking situation in order to receive treatment, she added.

"The approach of this is to meet people where they're at," she said. "The idea behind this is to try to encourage and to empower choice, not to make my choices theirs."