November 13, 2017 7:17 am

London police, St. Joseph’s Health partnership aims to help human trafficking victims

A uniformed London police patch, September 6, 2017. (Matthew Trevithick/AM980)

Matthew Trevithick/980 CFPL
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London police and the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program (RSADVTP) at St. Joseph’s Health Care London have set up a joint program to help deal with the toll human trafficking has on its victims.

The RSADVTP team has been working with London Police Service’s Human Trafficking Unit since March of this year. The RSADVTP team provides the initial examination, tests, and medical and psychological care for victims who are rescued by police.

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The RSADVTP is one of the first such treatment programs in the province to take on this type of role. Medical director Dr. Sudan McNair says it gives them a better understanding of what victims are going through.

“These are individuals who are very vulnerable and have unique and very high needs, not only medical and psychological but also with regards to safety, housing, legal advocacy and the most basic necessities,” said McNair.

READ MORE: Frontline officials and social workers consolidate support systems for human trafficking survivors

A team of specialized nurses, doctors and social workers is available 24/7 to provide care at the time of the assault and in the months following the incident. They are currently working with London police to use an interview space within the RSADVTP so that victims don’t have to go to the station to give their statements.

The joint effort is also looking at how to better provide care and support.

While human trafficking is a significant and growing problem province-wide, Det. Mike Hay with the Human Trafficking Unit says London is known as a hub for the crime.

READ MORE: Ontario legislation would give human trafficking survivors power to sue

In October 2016, London police launched Project Equinox, an investigation into human trafficking that led to sweeping arrests and shone a spotlight on the problem in London.

As a result of the six-month project, a specialized unit was established.

Led by Hay, the unit’s main goal is to rescue victims, some of whom have been as young as 14 years old.

“The partnership with Dr. McNair and St. Joseph’s has been fantastic,” said Hay. “Having a resource like the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program as the first point of care has made it very easy for victims of human trafficking in London to have immediate access to services, whether that’s counselling, testing for sexually transmitted disease, medical care, or simply a shower.”

READ MORE: London police training program will tackle human trafficking

Locally, the team supports efforts to create a “circle of care,” a co-ordinated community response for survivors. Provincially, the team would like to see the establishment of a care pathway in all Ontario sexual assault and domestic violence treatment centres.

“Human trafficking is a unique area of care for the network of sexual assault treatment programs in Ontario and St. Joseph’s is leading the way in this work,” said McNair.

There are many options for care and each individual can choose what he or she wants to do. Depending on the nature of the assault and the time since the assault, numerous services are offered:

  • Emotional support/crisis intervention to the patient and significant other
  • Counselling and physical examination
  • Testing, prevention, and/or treatment of sexually transmitted infections initially and in followup
  • HIV prevention medication
  • Testing and/or prevention of pregnancy due to sexual assault
  • Documentation/photographs of injuries
  • Forensic evidence collection
  • Safety planning
  • Referrals as needed

Serving London as well as Oxford, Elgin, Huron-Perth and Middlesex counties, the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Program located at St. Joseph’s Hospital provides care for women, children and men who have experienced sexual assault/sexual abuse and/or domestic violence.

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