B.C. Justice Minister Shirley Bond (left) and Surrey Memorial Hospital forensic nurse examiner Tara Wilkie (right).

Nurses to help detect human trafficking victims

Sex slaves are mostly Canadian women or girls, often lured online

Nurses in Fraser Health will be trained to recognize the warning signs of human trafficking among victims of violence who come into the region’s hospitals.

Surrey Memorial Hospital’s forensic nursing unit will develop a tool kit for the rest of the region – a first in Canada – to train emergency department staff in detecting and aiding victims.

The effort is funded by an $18,000 civil forfeiture grant announced Friday by Justice Minister Shirley Bond, who also unveiled a broader provincial action plan on human trafficking.

Most victims are forced into prostitution or sexual exploitation and many are believed to be aboriginal, often convinced to move from northern B.C. to the Lower Mainland and into the hands of controlling masters.

Other victims – women or men – may be compelled to work in hazardous situations that may include drug labs or grow-ops.

Two domestic service slavery cases are before B.C. courts, as well as human trafficking charges involving several minors in Lower Mainland micro-brothels.

But authorities believe the problem is much larger.

“It’s often a hidden and secret crime,” Bond said. “It’s very difficult for people who find themselves in this circumstance to come forward.”

Bond gave the example of a Prince George girl who might be lured on Facebook by an online boyfriend to move south. He showers her with gifts at first but eventually demands payback and forces her into prostitution at a local strip bar under a haze of drug addiction and threats of violence.

It’s hoped ER staff who spot the red flags can encourage victims of human trafficking to agree to work with a forensic nurse, who can collect evidence and potentially testify against perpetrators.

According to nurses at SMH, most of the suspected victims here are Canadian women and girls, not foreigners brought in from other countries.

Tara Wilkie, a forensic nurse examiner specializing in sexual assault cases, estimated 50 to 60 per cent of 170 violence cases the regional forensic nursing unit based in Surrey sees each year are probable victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

She said the aim is to ensure more frontline nurses can spot signs of coercion and abuse, certain telltale injuries and illness – and summon help from forensic nurses and police.

Rosalind Currie, director of B.C.’s Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons, said youth are increasingly recruited by traffickers over the Internet.

She said a computer game is also being developed to teach youth how to recognize manipulative tactics of human traffickers, who ply victims with free alcohol or drugs, gifts, trips and invitations to parties.

“Accepting these can trap them into paying off a debt,” Currie said.

She said foreign workers in Canada can also be more vulnerable to traffickers, who may seize their passports as another control lever.

A total of $150,000 in provincial civil forfeiture grants are going to human trafficking initiatives.

The new action plan lists youth, vulnerable workers and aboriginal communities as priority groups and focuses on public awareness, staff training and service coordination.