Human trafficking is very much alive in Ontario – and our youth are at risk.
Despite the common belief that the majority of people trafficked in Canada have crossed international borders, over 90% of the country’s trafficked persons are, in fact, Canadian. In Ontario alone, nearly 43% of victims are under 18, and nearly 70% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation.
Infringing upon several national and international decrees, human trafficking is an extreme form of violence against women, a direct violation of human rights, and, essentially, modern slavery. The rise of the online world and social media has only exacerbated the issue, pushing it further “underground” and making it increasingly less visible to the public. In doing so, it has increased the risks and created new challenges for law enforcement and social services.
Worst of all, this means the young girls and women of our communities are at even greater risk of exploitation. This is ultimately due to the long-standing societal norm of gender inequality, which has given rise to the hyper-sexualization, dehumanization, and commodification of girls and women. Traffickers prey on the growing insecurities of adolescent girls, which are fed by the deeply sexist nature of the media and entertainment industry, resulting in extreme physical and psychological trauma.
Some of the most vulnerable to human trafficking are Canada’s Indigenous youth, due to many different reasons outlined in the presentation.
Aura Freedom works against trafficking in Nepal and quickly became aware of just how little Canadian communities know about the trafficking happening in Canada. In order to address this knowledge gap, we launched our Human Trafficking Awareness for Canadian Youth program, aimed at educating youth in schools, youth shelters and group homes on the dangers and extreme prevalence of human trafficking and sexual exploitation right here at home.
The presentation covers a vast range of subtopics, including “the face” of sex trafficking in Canada, risk factors, vulnerable demographics, what to look out for, and what the recruitment (or “grooming”) process looks like, including safety tips for social media use.
“In many cases, traffickers and pimps pose as boyfriends. So, we are informing youth of just how easy girls can be trafficked, and how nobody is immune from being exploited.” – Marissa Kokkoros, Executive Director of Aura Freedom
The presentation also touches upon the laws in place, consent, healthy relationships, gender inequality and hyper masculinity, and better role models for young women and men.
“I feel so connected to your organization. I walk around all day feeling so sad with what I see around me and how women are treated and portrayed in the media…thank you for coming here and showing us that it doesn’t have to be this way.” – Kim, Contact Alternative School, Toronto
“Thank you so much for coming to my school. You are right…young men need more positive role models…we don’t want to be pimps. This is so important, you have to tell everybody.” – Amir, Contact Alternative School, Toronto
Our delivery is supplemented by a number of visual aids and dialogue with the students, drawing from a number of current statistics and case studies. Also fundamental to the program are the presence of a trained trauma counsellor, established through a collaboration with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre, and the distribution of a comprehensive referral list for students and teachers to keep in the event they need to contact social services in the future. Due to the powerful nature of the awareness and the caring support provided, we have had disclosure of exploitation from young women during our visits and have been able to provide them with access to the appropriate services.
“Young adults absolutely need to hear this. It’s a tough topic, but Aura Freedom has made it easier for my students and me to open up and have this vital – even life-saving – discussion.” – Amanda, TDSB Guidance Counsellor
Aura Freedom believes in the power of education to fight injustice, inequality, and exploitation. With the ongoing dissemination of this crucial information, students and teachers will have increased awareness of the nature of human trafficking and its dangers. They will also gain knowledge on preventative measures and who to contact when there is threat of trafficking, explicit or otherwise. With our collective efforts as a community, we can help students protect themselves, stay safe, and stay children.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org to book an awareness presentation at your school or youth venue (suitable for ages 11-18).
Additional Advocacy & Awareness in Toronto
At the community level, Aura Freedom is heavily involved in human trafficking advocacy initiatives. As an active member of the Toronto-Counter Human Trafficking Network (TCHTN), we attend monthly meetings to coordinate our efforts with those of other member organizations. We also played an integral role in the launch of Toronto’s first Human Trafficking Helpline, as well as the development of a human trafficking response model to better equip the city in addressing these cases. Additionally, we have strong ties with the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre and, most recently, have coordinated with 31 Division of the Toronto Police Services, who are, themselves, strong advocates for this cause and deeply committed to the prevention and eradication of sex trafficking in Toronto.
Due to Aura Freedom’s extensive involvement in the field of human rights, we are fortunate to regulary attend and speak at a number of high-profile events. In 2015, our Executive Director, Marissa Kokkoros, was invited by several organizations, including Canada’s Global Affairs, to discuss different forms of gender-based violence faced by Canadian girls, including a conference at Queen’s Park hosted by members of Parliament. More recently, Marissa participated in Canada’s National Human Trafficking Conference held by the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Public Safety Canada, as well as a panel discussion on sex trafficking in Toronto hosted in part by Toronto Police Services’ 31 Division.
Aura Freedom was also present for the recent announcement of Ontario’s New Strategy to End Human Trafficking, a tremendous recognition of this pervasive human rights abuse and the existing gaps in our system that hinder our ability to effectively serve survivors. For more information on Aura Freedom’s support of our Government’s actions, check out our press release.
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