BELLEVILLE – Victim Services in Belleville has created an educational campaign to raise awareness about human trafficking in the Quinte area.
Human trafficking isn’t just something that happens in big cities, says the executive director of Victim Services, Lisa Warriner.
Last year, “we had four human-trafficking victims come through our Victim Services and one so far in January,” she said. “We know it’s a prevalent issue in Ontario.”
Human trafficking is the act of being taken from one’s community and sexually exploited in order to gain profit, said Warriner.
Although anyone could be a victim, Warriner said women who are 25 and under are at a higher risk.
“It’s important for the report to include that the individuals that we see coming through our service are local girls,” she said. “They have grown up here and have been taken from their community and trafficked elsewhere.”
Since the Quinte region is along the Highway 401 corridor, it is often a prime location for human traffickers to stop in at local hotels or motels, she said.
“We tend to think that these are big-city issues, but they are absolutely not. These are your girls next door.”
Kristy Hunter, the education and program co-ordinator for Victim Services, has a key role in raising community awareness about the campaign.
First a poster was created, and our second step will be going to hotels in the area … to educate and provide free on-site training,” she said.
Hunter will travel to over 50 locations within Belleville, Quinte West, Prince Edward County and Bancroft to do the training.
The goal “is to educate (hotel and motel staff) so that they’re informed on the signs to look for when they get clients coming– so they can recognize when it’s happening and they can report it, to get victims help,” she said.
Raiaing awareness in the community is another important part of helping prevent human trafficking, said Hunter.
“People don’t realize that it’s a problem in our area, and you can’t fix a problem that you don’t realize exists,” she said. “Our goal is to educate people so that they’re better able to help victims that they may not realize exist in our community.”
Victim Services says it hopes that through the education program, human trafficking incidents will be significantly reduced.
“I think it’ll make a huge impact,” said Hunter. “It’ll be a shock factor in the beginning, because people don’t realize the problem. Once they’re able to educate themselves on the warning signs or the risk factors or indications that it’s happening, they’ll be better able to recognize it and they’ll start getting the victims the help that they need.”
As for the steps that young people can take to help reduce their chances of being trafficked, Warriner said it all starts with making smart decisions.
“The biggest safety piece probably is when a bunch of girls go out, stay together in in groups and don’t be so trusting of individuals,” she said. “Stay with your friend when you’re partying and make sure your parents know where you are.”
The campaign starts in Bancroft on March 1.