It can happen here

Despite efforts by various agencies to draw attention to the problem, it continues to come as a shock when human trafficking is presented as a problem of significant proportion in rural Ontario.

An “it-couldn’t-happen-here” reflex kicks in when such crimes are chronicled on Newscasts and it often seems easier to avert our gaze than confront the problem.

Yet the issue has reached the level that Ontario’s first Human Trafficking Awareness Day was observed last week, on Feb. 22. The Ontario Provincial Police used the occasion to encourage the public to learn the indicators of human trafficking.

In a press release, police state that across Ontario, more and more victims are being recruited from small towns and lured with promises of love and a “better life.” Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purposes of exploitation, typically in the sex industry or for forced labour, the release explains.

Police note that indicators of human trafficking are not always obvious and the presence of one indicator does not necessarily identify human trafficking. However, a variety of indicators may point to the fact that an individual is being trafficked and needs help. These indicators may include:

– the individual seems afraid, anxious or depressed;

– another person controls the individual’s conversation;

– another person speaks on behalf of the individual;

– another person holds or controls the individual’s identification, which may be real or fake;

– there are signs of poor health, hygiene and/or nutrition;

– the individual is wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather or situation;

– there is an age gap between the individual and their companion;

– tattoos or branding on the individual indicate ownership;

– the individual has scars or injuries from abuse;

– the individual has no control over their money;

– the individual has expensive items but no basic necessities;

– the individual has new, older friends who provide gifts, drugs, expensive clothing and/or jewelry;

– the individual has lost connection with their family and friends;

– the individual misses class regularly, or drops out of school; and

– the individual is reluctant to engage with teachers, youth workers, social workers or other adults in their life.

The OPP is asking the public to be alert for indicators of possible instances of human trafficking and to immediately contact them, or Crime Stoppers, if they suspect such activity.

As  Inspector Tina Chalk of the OPP Counter Exploitation and Missing Persons Section explains, “Human trafficking is not confined to big cities alone. These offences are of a particularly clandestine nature and victims or witnesses are reluctant to come forward to authorities. It is often the most vulnerable members of our society who are most prone to becoming victims of human trafficking. This is why it is important to increase public awareness regarding the indicators of human trafficking in order to help keep our communities safe.”