By Kaelanne Jordan
When persons are subjected to crimes of human trafficking it affects them spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and physically.
Of the four areas, Alana Wheeler, director, Counter Trafficking Unit, Ministry of National Security emphasised that the spiritual element is critical. If victims of human trafficking are not “healed” or “restored”, “then it will just be a matter of time before they go back to that life,” Wheeler said during a Question and Answer segment on Human Trafficking hosted by the Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development Friday, January 31 at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Chaplaincy, St Augustine.
According to Wheeler, victims of human trafficking experience many psychological issues that manifest in physical ways. She gave examples such as self-harm by cutting, migraines, irregular menstruation and sleeping patterns, nausea and sleeplessness/insomnia.
“So, when you take them back into your care, you now have to regularise their bodies and regularise their sleeping patters. So the mental health is critical,” Wheeler said.
Human trafficking victims who would have used substances such as drugs or alcohol to help them “cope” with their trafficking experience can experience mental health issues if they are now no longer able obtain that substance/s.
Meanwhile, Naureen M Nalia, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy, and Margaret Johnson from the Franciscan Institute both spoke on the importance of specialised training in working with human trafficking victims. As an attorney, Nalia has worked with at least 20 victims of domestic violence and sexual assault on a daily basis. She mentioned her area of expertise required two months of training in trauma-related responses.
She shared she was recently exposed to a “very interesting programme” in the State of Colorado where mental health professionals volunteer their time to go out to gender-based violence units and work alongside the police.
“…because…it actually does help to have a wholly trained mental health professional with those calls with you, not just understand the point of helping the victims but also because domestic violence is the most dangerous call a police officer will ever be called upon and the one where the police officer is likely to be injured.”
Having a mental health professional respond to the scene of a domestic violence call can actually de-escalate the situation and make it safer for everyone, Nalia said.
The panel discussion featured talks on ‘Combatting Human Trafficking’ by Wheeler; ‘Human Trafficking Laws’, Jonathan Bhagan, attorney-at-law; ‘Policies and Procedures related to Human Trafficking’, Shireen Pollard, head of the recently launched Gender Based Violence Unit in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service; ‘Educating and Raising Human Trafficking Awareness through schools, workshops’, Margaret Johnson, a representative from the Franciscan Institute; and ‘Human Trafficking Awareness’, Naureen M Nalia, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy.