From shuttling victims along the 401 to predators using Snapchat and Instagram to target girls as young as 12, human trafficking is no small problem in Ontario.
According to Statistics Canada, there was a total of 865 human trafficking victims in Canada between 2009 and 2016, with the number of reported incidents steadily increasing since 2010.
For this reason, Kingston police partnered with local organizations to support the second annual Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22, and warned the community in a press release that day that Kingston is “not immune to this deplorable crime.”
In a phone interview with The Journal, Sgt. Brad Brooker of Kingston police said, just like any other crime, many human trafficking cases go unreported.
“Unless it’s being reported to the police, it’s hard to gauge the actual scope of it,” he said. “However, we’re sure there’s human trafficking occurring within Kingston.”
Since the first Human Trafficking Awareness Day in 2018, Kingston police and other community organizations have expanded education to high school students and have struck an anti-human trafficking awareness group.
Brooker said there’s “definitely” been improvement since the first human trafficking awareness day last year.
“I know from experience in the past that education and awareness works,” he said. He cited an educational program for hotel owners and staff last year which led to a local hotel assisting police in saving a 14-year-old from being trafficked.
The signs of human trafficking vary depending on the situation, but Brooker pointed to a new Kingston website about human trafficking for a list of basic warning signs, facts, and resources for survivors.
According to the website—pimpingisnotcool.com—89 per cent of human trafficking cases in Canada involve Canadian youth between 12 and 21.
“Part of the tactic behind human trafficking is moving people from place to place and keeping them in unfamiliar locations, so places like Kingston, Brockville, Ottawa, London, Toronto, they’re all within that main corridor, the 401,” Brooker said.
The website added human traffickers will target victims using social media outlets like Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
“Social media is huge,” Brooker said. “I don’t know if it’s made [human trafficking] worse, but it’s certainly made it more accessible.”
Because human traffickers target females between the ages of 12 and 21, Brooker said, while he couldn’t offer any specific examples, it “certainly wouldn’t surprise” him if human trafficking was happening at Queen’s.
“Queen’s students are coming [here] at the age of 17 or younger even, so they potentially could be a target of human trafficking,” he said, although adding Queen’s has its own human trafficking awareness group.
Olivia Sant and Sheyenne Chapman are the co-chairs of Queen’s Love146, the local task force for the non-profit organization advocating against human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
In a phone interview with The Journal, Sant and Chapman said Love146 has two jobs: raising community awareness about human trafficking and generating funds for survivors.
This year, the group has been raising funds by selling gently used clothing for cheap prices, and according to Sant, they’ve had a lot of success. “This has actually been, I believe, one of our best events so far,” she said, adding the next sale will happen at the ARC on March 4.
Like Brooker, Sant said Canadians tend to think human trafficking isn’t something that happens in North America.
“Even though it’s not something we think of every day or see everyday, unfortunately it is happening in our own backyard more than we think,” Sant said. She also said survivors need more resources.
“Taking care of the survivor requires a comprehensive set of different types of care and consequently they’re going to be really, really expensive,” she said. “I’ve heard of a lot of services being started and that care is definitely increasing for survivors, but I still think there’s not enough.”
Chapman noted that traffickers shuttling victims along the 401 makes it difficult for service providers to adapt.
“A lot of survivors, they could end up in any community,” she said. “If these people are just being shuttled back and forth, it’s really hard to pinpoint at certain times how many survivors you might have or might need to care for.”
Sant said, because of their youth, girls might not be aware they’re being groomed for human trafficking or know about the different services available to them.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the trafficking that goes on, it’s a grey area,” she said. “Women may not think or believe they’re being trafficked or sexually exploited, and the johns or the pimps, they also may not think they’re entirely guilty of pimping or exploiting people either.”
Queen’s Love146 will be sharing more information on March 9 at its annual awareness event. The day will include two information seminars and musical performances.
Sgt. Brad Brooker will also be speaking at the event.
“All of our service providers are already communicating and working on making things better within Kingston,” he said.
The original article mispelt Queen’s Love146’s co-chair’s name. It is Olivia Sant, not Sants.
The Journal regrets the error
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