By Diane Weidner, Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning

“We have a very big issue with human sex trafficking in Quebec—the rate is growing rapidly with social media, and anyone can be targeted regardless of their background,” stated Josée Mensales, coordinator of Les Survivantes program with the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal.

Officer Mensales recently took part in a panel discussion with health care professionals and educators at McGill University to raise awareness and clear up some common misconceptions surrounding human trafficking. Since research indicates that victims are likely to seek medical assistance during their captivity, the discussion focused on how health care professionals can help to identify, assist and advocate for victims.

Françoise Filion, Assistant Professor at the Ingram School of Nursing, has integrated social justice issues into her community nursing curriculum and points out how important it is to prepare our learners for these encounters: “If a victim presents at a clinic or emergency room, it is likely following a crisis—an unwanted pregnancy, a sexually transmitted disease, an incident involving extreme violence.  They have been deprived of their decision-making capacity while under their trafficker’s control and may be afraid to engage. This could be a pivot point, a moment where they may be willing to accept help. As health care professionals, we need to ensure their safety and consent. We can provide them with information to make informed decisions, give them options and most importantly, let them know that we are here to listen, and here to offer help if they choose it.”

Using Simulation to Enhance Learning

To help prepare students for these clinical encounters, Professor Filion has been working closely with the Steinberg Centre for Simulation and Interactive Learning (SCSIL) to design scenarios based on real-life patient encounters.  As Loïc Simard-Villeneuve, SCSIL Standardized Patient Educator explains, “These simulations allow students to learn and practice communications skills in a safe environment so that if they do encounter victims in the clinical setting, they will be better equipped to detect and help them.”

We know that medical simulation is a proven method of educating health care professionals and that it yields outcomes; however, simulations that touch upon issues of societal relevance are underrepresented.  Mr. Simard-Villeneuve’s desire to bring this issue to a wider audience is what sparked this collaboration to host an interdisciplinary webinar. With his artistic and educational background, he was able to transform the simulated clinical encounter into a short film that could be incorporated into the webinar for discussion.

The webinar also included a conversation with a survivor who shared her emotional journey from sexual exploitation, her encounters with the health care system, and her courageous road to recovery.

“In the world of simulation, we often say that the best education happens when the logical mind and the emotional heart come together to share the person’s whole story,” explains Niki Soilis, SCSIL Education manager. “That is what we tried to accomplish. We are so grateful to our survivor for sharing her story with us, to our panelists for shedding light on this important issue, and to our viewers for their willingness to engage and learn more about how health care professionals can advocate on behalf of human trafficking victims.”

The Learner’s Perspective

Zahra Dinani and Nicole Drummond were among the nursing students who attended the live webinar in preparation for their community nursing encounters.  We talked after the webinar to get their impressions.

What did you learn from this panel discussion today that surprised you?

We didn’t know that the SPVM had such a well-developed framework and structure, and all these resources in place to support human trafficking victims.  It makes sense, we just weren’t aware of the level of sophistication behind it.

Also, hearing the survivor’s story was really eye-opening.  We grew up in Montreal, and can now see how easily someone could be approached and not think too much about it. It made us realize how vulnerable young women are in Montreal, how it’s also a local issue, not just international. That was really surprising.


How do you feel that this has prepared you for your role in the community?

Knowing the signs to look out for was helpful.  The red flags, like cigarette burns and tattoos of gang signs, will definitely be more noticeable to us. The video and simulation were informative, but even more preparation is needed.  For example, a toolkit and screening process would be valuable, as would having a protocol in the emergency room.

What was your overall impression of the webinar format?

The webinar was cool. Sometimes we have guest speakers from different organizations, but it’s very rare that we have everybody all together like this, very formalized and informative. You can see the interdisciplinary collaboration between health care and the justice system.


To view the recording of this webinar, click here:
Crime and Medicine: Health Care Providers at the Intersection of Human Trafficking
We are working to raise awareness and develop tools to support his initiative.

If you would like to support us, please visit our Seeds of Change Campaign.


Thank you to McGill Integrated Communications for their assistance with this event:

to Frank Roop and the Video Production Team for filming and editing the clinical simulated video, and to the Live Events Team pictured below for filming and broadcasting the live webinar.


February 22, 2019