The idea that someone could force another person to undergo sexual acts for money against their will is so appalling that most of us just don’t want to think about it. But the reality is that sex trafficking does happen right here in Kawartha Lakes, and a lot of it victimizes young people, whether they are from this area or have been brought here by the person who is trafficking them.
Among victims, 95 per cent are female, and 28 per cent are under the age of 18. Indigenous women and girls are disproportionately the victims and survivors of sex trafficking, and 2SLGBTQ+ youth are also targets. According to Public Safety Canada, sex trafficking involves “recruiting, transporting or holding victims for sexual exploitation. Sex traffickers get their victims to provide sexual services through different forms of coercion.” Those services are whatever the person in control demands, from sexual acts for an online audience to forced sex work. It is, in a brutal name for a brutal crime, a form of modern-day slavery that has terrible impacts on its victims, leaving them despondent and traumatized. The hope lives in the fact that many victims survive their experience — going on with resilience to enjoy fulfilling lives and looking forward to the future — and that it’s possible to prevent sex trafficking.
No matter what your position or role in our community, you can help. The most important thing is to be aware of the signs that a young person may be in the process of being lured in or in fact is being sex trafficked. Here are some things to watch for among teens you know:
- apparent control by an older, unrelated person, usually a “boyfriend” – or sometimes a “girlfriend” or secretive new “best friend”; traffickers can use all genders to recruit
- struggling with family or caregivers
- experiencing vulnerabilities with things such as mental wellness, self-confidence, body image, etc.
- new gifts from unknown sources
- becoming uncharacteristically angry or withdrawn
- being secretive or lying about where they are going or have been while out
- being more tired than normal
- a drop in marks or attendance at school
- a sudden change in personal hygiene habits
- more spending money with no apparent source
- longer periods of time away from home with no explanation
- personality changes such as increased anxiety, fearfulness, and/or timidity
- an intense relationship with an older person
- excessive worry about their online presence
- a new cellphone from an unexplained source
Of course, if you notice any of these signs, it’s important to remember they could be happening for a variety of reasons. It is always okay to check in with the person or a trusted adult or social services professional or police just to be sure. Conversations can be awkward, but they are important.
If you are worried that someone you know may be in danger from sex trafficking, call Women’s Resources at 705-878-3662 or 1-800-565-5350, or connect to our 24/7 chat . You can also click on the Get Help tab on this website.
There are no “wrong” conversations. Trusted adults and social services workers and police know how to help. When you reach out, you might be saving a life.
By Nancy Payne