Sometimes the official terms hide the outrageous reality. When we talk about human trafficking, we’re nearly always talking about this: forcing teenagers and young adults into something best described as sexual slavery.
The most common form this crime takes is a man singling out a teenaged girl and making her feel special, showering her with attention and gifts. And then the nightmare starts. The man introduces her to a “friend” and pressures her to have sex. And then there are more men she’s forced to have sex with, for money that her supposed boyfriend keeps.
That’s human trafficking. Our vague idea that it was something unfortunate related to women smuggled into our country and exploited doesn’t reflect the reality. According to the Ontario government, two-thirds of the human trafficking that takes place in Canada happens in our province. And while young adults are also trafficked, the average age of someone coerced through human trafficking is just 13. Most of the victims are female.
Imagine a 13-year-old child forced to have sex under threat of violence. It’s almost unthinkable, isn’t it? And yet it happens right here in our community. From 2018 to 2020, Kawartha Haliburton Victim Services helped 31 victims of human trafficking in Kawartha Lakes. Indeed, the fact that our area is quiet and rural, but so close to the Greater Toronto Area, actually makes it attractive to the pimps and to men who would pay for sex with a teenager who has no choice about her role.
Although girls and young women who are homeless, addicted, have mental health problems or are estranged from their families are most vulnerable, boys and people who are LGBTQ+ are also at risk from traffickers. There are also plenty of stories of victims who come from loving, stable, comfortable families being successfully targeted by those who trade in human misery for their own gain.
In January, Women’s Resources staff and volunteers will gather to work out the details of an ambitious plan to combat human trafficking by helping children and youth. As part of the Ontario government’s program announced on Dec. 11, 2020, Women’s Resources will receive more than $780,000 to carry out the program’s goals of raising awareness about human trafficking, especially among young people, protecting victims, supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable.
The more we know about how human trafficking works, the more we can prevent it from happening in Kawartha Lakes or anywhere else. Local hotel and motel staff are vigilant for signs of forced sex work, but we can all be aware of the potential warning signs: a young person becoming more secretive and withdrawing from their family and friends, spending more time with an older man, suddenly possessing expensive clothes or jewellery, having a second cellphone whose number they won’t share, skipping school and staying out late more often.
If you are worried that someone you know is in danger from human trafficking, call Women’s Resources at 705-878-3662, start a conversation in our confidential chat box, or click on the Get Help tab on this website.