Ontario mandates school boards to address sex trafficking

After years of advocacy from community organizations, activists and survivors, the Ontario government has announced a new policy framework mandating all school boards to have anti-human trafficking protocols in place to protect students.

Finally.

As long-time advocates that work with survivors of sexual exploitation and trafficking, this announcement is a positive one. Indeed, we have been talking about the importance of including anti-human trafficking information in school curricula for years.

In fact, we think it’s just as important as Math, Science, Reading…you get the picture.

Community organizations know sex trafficking inside and out, and involving us at all levels will ensure that Ontario is actually preventing sex trafficking, and not simply talking about it.

Most cases of youth sexual exploitation look a lot like romantic relationships or friendships in the beginning stages – so it’s key to incorporate information on healthy relationships and consent.

Most importantly, human trafficking thrives in situations of inequity – where there is a power imbalance. Therefore, plans to address sexual exploitation must centre equity – gender equity, racial equity, and more. We need an intersectional approach that recognizes who is trafficked most in Ontario – girls, Indigenous and racialized youth, newcomers, youth in care, LGBTQ2S+ youth, and more. These are not catch phrases, these are the youth we see being exploited and any plan that does not centre them will ultimately fail.

The Framework is very thorough, mentioning marginalized groups like Indigenous and Black youth, and systemic issues like racism and communities targeted by the child welfare system. It is encouraging to see these inequities being outlined, but we want to stress the importance of having grassroots community organizations at the table throughout the entire process to ensure the needs of Indigenous and racialized students are met.

We also hope to see a further gender lens applied to the Framework. We know that although boys can be and are trafficked, the majority of survivors identify as girls. Details on this information was missing from the Framework, as was the importance of addressing unhealthy masculinity and misogyny – two huge drivers of sexual exploitation.

We look forward to smaller grassroots organizations in Ontario having a seat at the table during continued community consultations in the rollout of these plans. Although we may not have the budget needed to promote our work or make it sustainable, many grassroots groups are out there doing a lot of ‘heavy lifting’ in efforts to prevent and respond to sexual exploitation and our voices are integral to the success of any plan.

Marissa Kokkoros is the Executive Director of Aura Freedom and author of Relentless Resilience

FUN FACTS:

  • Aura Freedom has consulted at the Regional, Provincial and Federal levels of government in anti-trafficking efforts, ensuring an intersectional approach is not only considered, but centred. We are a members of different national and international coalitions addressing human trafficking around the world.
  • Aura Freedom was a key advisor to the York Region District School Board in creating their anti-sex trafficking protocol currently in place, as well as an advisor to White Ribbon in creating their digital resource for educators – both of which are mentioned in Ontario’s News Release.
  • We currently sit on numerous Advisory Committees for various initiatives addressing sexual exploitation in Ontario, including Victim Services Toronto, FCJ Refugee Centre, White Ribbon, and more.
  • On July 5th, we were given the Mayor’s Community Safety Award from the City of Toronto for our work preventing youth sexual exploitation and trafficking in our city.