Forensic nurses offer victims an opportunity to control what happens next

Another valuable tool is added to the arsenal in fighting human trafficking in the Houston area to stop "People for Sale". Houston was recently considered to be the largest hub of human trafficking in the country, but in true Houston style, the community is coming out in full force to fight this.  

A new task force is in place and they're teaming up with a group of forensic nurses to help victims while trying to find the evidence to stop their offenders.

Ericka Williams is relieved to now be on the "other side" of human trafficking.  "I lived a real fast & speedy life and fell into a place I call Sin City, a dark world, a lot of trafficking, drug dealers, it was a real, real dark place in my life & I got caught up with the wrong people at the wrong time," says Ericka.  

Now she spends her time helping other victims. She's impressed to learn about a new non-profit called "Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners", founded by Dr. Kara Breeden.  "The philosophy behind it is that we aim to meet patients where they're at, versus expecting them to find the correct hospital or location to receive a forensic exam, which we know is so important in their process of healing," says Dr. Breeden.       

They achieve this difficult task in a loving, healing environment, through seven different warm and inviting clinics in surrounding counties.  Plus they'll meet patients at CHI St. Luke's and HCA emergency rooms. Forensic nurses have powerful partners to identify the victims.  

"We work closely with HTRA which is the Human Trafficking Rescue Alliance here in Houston, so we're a partner with them here in Houston, so we get direct calls from some of those law enforcement agencies that are members of HTRA and we'll all coordinate," explains Dr. Breeden. 

They see patients beyond trafficking, including domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse. 

Brookley Torres is one of the forensic nurses.  She explains how they make the clinic comfortable for victims.  "The dim lighting, the comfy chairs, feels like these chairs would hug you, that's exactly how it is.  

We usually come in here and we'll sit down like this and start talking about what the exam is about and it's just a really nice place to get started," explains Brookley. 

They make sure their patients' basic needs are met.  "We offer them food, something to drink, a blanket, maybe some socks.  It sounds so basic, but when we do that and talk about consent and us being there for them, they know we're there for them for the right reasons and we start to break down those walls," states Dr. Breeden.       

Dr. Breeden says "consent" is one of the most valuable things they offer. "Any type of victim of violence needs to know they're in control.  We're here for them, they have choices, nothing we do is going to be forced upon them.  

I think that's really one of the biggest steps, to get them to that next stage of healing and recovery is by starting a very thorough consent process, sounds silly - but giving them power at beginning of exam - doing that thoroughly establishes the relationship from the very beginning," says Dr. Breeden.

Ericka says a lot of victims are scared to reach out for help, but she feels like a place like this will change that for many victims to come.  

"I think they'd be more open to go - because right now they're in fury - they're ashamed of what others will think of them, where they come from, they've been raped, they've been molested, they've been domestic violenced, so no I can't go there, but if they had a wonderful foundation and wonderful loving, caring people, a safe haven just for them, just for them, it wouldn't be a problem and they'd be open to check-ups," says Ericka.      

So far, it's working.  Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners took care of 90 victims in January. Once their patient feels comfortable, the serious work begins.  

"Then we do history.. in the patients' words, what has happened to them which guides our entire exam.  It helps to collect evidence, where we need to look for evidence and the rest of it is using our nursing skills, physical assessment from head to toe, anogenital assessment, looking for injuries, then we offer medications to prevent STD's and thorough discharge and safety planning, especially for trafficking victims because we know there are so many dynamics for their safety," says Dr. Breeden.

Officers even invite the forensic nurses to be at some of the trafficking stings.  "We've been on a couple of operations where we do STD testing, even if they don't outcry at that time and we follow with them later on, keep contact with them until they're ready to outcry, maybe they'd feel safe for us to be those people they go to," says Brookley.  The nurses and Ericka want victims to know, that there is life after trafficking, and that quality of life can be found through the right care.  "If they can see from Point A to Point Z, then they've got hope, so that foundation of a safe haven will be an awesome thing for them," states Ericka. 

"Texas Forensic Nurse Examiners" is definitely providing hope.

Their first-ever fundraiser is Thursday, April 30 at the Hess Club.  The guest speaker is Jim McIngvale. It will involve a Kendra Scott pop-up shop, silent auction, and raffle. 

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