THIS IS WHAT HEALTHCARE COULD LOOK LIKE: A CLINIC FOR SEX TRAFFICKING AND SEXUAL VIOLENCE SURVIVORS
Veronica Ades, MD, MPH, is a self-described “vaginista extraordinaire” and a post-sexual-trauma scientist. In addition to being a kick-ass doctor, she’s an Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Director of Global Women’s Health at the New York University School of Medicine, and is the director of the EMPOWER Lab and Clinic for Survivors of Sex Trafficking and Sexual Violence.
EMPOWER (Engage/Motivate/Protect/Organize/self-Worth/Educate/Respect) Lab (#whattanacronym!) was created to meet not only the physical/medical needs of sex trafficking and sexual violence survivors, but their mental health needs as well. So, alongside obstetric and gynecological care, psychiatric services are provided. Additionally, EMPOWER treats patients using a carefully developed, culturally appropriate, and sensitive approach while accepting all patients regardless of their ability to pay or immigration status.
EMPOWER is unique as it works as both a clinic treating patients and a research lab, studying what individual patients suffering from specific trauma might need in their healthcare. Ades has published work on how to best treat women veterans who suffered sexual violence,(1) finding that reproductive health centers need to use special care, attention, and empathy in treatment and help these survivors find a sense of agency in their bodies again. Hello EMPOWER!
At initial visits, patients may be offered the option of reserving the physical and/or pelvic exam for a subsequent visit in order to first establish trust in the provider.
The length of appointments is determined by the patient's own pace and needs, about 40-60 minutes compared to routine gynecologic visits, which take about 20 minutes on average.
Survivors are offered the opportunity to discuss their traumatic experiences and are allowed to share or withhold any aspect of their experience that they prefer.
Can you imagine if this model was replicated elsewhere?!
Written by: Molly Schwartz, New York, NY
(1) Dognin, Joanna, et al. “Group Education Sessions for Women Veterans Who Experienced Sexual Violence: Qualitative Findings.” Families, Systems, & Health, vol. 35, no. 3, Sept. 2017, pp. 360–372., doi:10.1037/fsh0000262.