Country music artist and Calgarian Paul Brandt hopes to tackle what he calls a “public health crisis” in Calgary with the help of local police and students at the business school at Mount Royal University — where Brandt is a storyteller in residence.
#NotInMyCity is a campaign that aims to raise awareness about human trafficking through education.
“I think the main thing is all about education,” Brandt told Global News Morning on Thursday. “This is a public health crisis.”
“I think that most people … when you say human trafficking, and they kind of nod and it takes about a half-an-hour, 45 minutes into the conversation and they go, ‘Wait a minute, what did you just say?’ And it’s because people don’t know.”
Brandt said the #NotInMyCity project came together to make a point — people don’t want to see human trafficking happening in the city.
Brandt said he first became aware of the realities of human trafficking while travelling in South East Asia, where he met a five-year-old girl who was a victim.
“I looked her in the eye, I played some music for her, and I said to myself, what am I going to tell my little girl that I did about this, now that I know?” Brandt said.
“We all have different capacities to do things about issues like this, but once we know we all have a responsibility.”
Since then, Brandt said he’s heard of more stories from Canadian women and those living in Calgary, including a woman who has trafficked across the country since the age of nine.
Police said June data shows numbers haven’t increased, but sex trafficking in the city remains “beyond under-reported.”
So far in 2017, police said they have apprehended 11 sexually exploited youth and helped 11 adults leave the sex trade.
Human trafficking moving online makes identifying victims harder
CPS Chief Roger Chaffin said the fact that much of human trafficking is now being done online has made it even harder for officers to identify potential victims and traffickers.
“This is borderless,” Chaffin said. “One of the biggest challenges with the way people move around now is that it’s not defined by cars and streets and blocks, these are going across the country, across boarders.”
“The transactions occurring over dark web that we can’t even see who’s doing what transaction, so this makes it very difficult in this day and age to identify these people.”
Chaffin also admitted that the police service’s approache to sex workers in the past – citing examples like prostitution strolls and arresting prostitutes – has made it more difficult for those involved in the industry to feel they can trust the CPS. That’s a gap he hopes #NotInMyCity will help bridge.
“We don’t have a great history long-term of having great trust with victims,” he said. “If you think about times we used to arrest a lot of prostitutes for being a prostitute, that didn’t create a lot of harmony with what we were trying to accomplish.”
“Now we’re trying to spend our time meeting people, introducing ourselves, offering supports and getting them the kind of help and treatment they need, but it takes a complex approach.”
Chaffin also said they’re keeping themselves aware and asking others in the hospitality industry to be aware of the signs as people come through the city for the Calgary Stampede.
“In any large city… when you have a large event and you’re bringing a large [number of] tourists into any area… we know that’s going to attract the customers, it’s going to attract the sellers or the purveyors of this, so it’s our job to make sure we put awareness to this.”
What should you look for?
Police say the following signs could indicate a person is potentially a victim of sexual exploitation or human trafficking:
- Are kept isolated, watched, escorted or guarded
- May be coached by others when answering questions
- Afraid to seek help for fear of harm to themselves or their families
- May be unaware of what city they are in
- Often do not speak English
- May try to protect their trafficker from detection and apprehension. They may develop loyalties and positive feelings towards their trafficker as a coping mechanism.