Students at Sinclair Secondary School were learning more than math, science and English on Wednesday.
They were introduced to a dark reality in the region — human trafficking.
It’s something Maddie Hunt has seen in movies, but she had no idea human trafficking was happening in her own region.
“The age group and having it so close to us makes it more surreal that this actually happens. Even if you know about it or not, it does happen. It’s kind of scary,” said Hunt, a Grade 11 student at Sinclair Secondary School.
This year alone, the Durham Regional Police Services’ (DRPS) Human Trafficking Unit has conducted 80 investigations, leading to more than 130 charges. Something Det.-Sgt. Ryan Connelly wanted to talk to the high-school students about.
“Not enough people are aware of what human trafficking is and how serious of a problem it is,” said Connolly of the DRPS Human Trafficking Unit.
Connelly has been working in the unit for the past year, and says the crime occurs every day in Durham.
“We’ve identified 30 victims of human trafficking that are residents of Durham Region under the age of 18 years old, so that stat right there is alarming enough. It shows that we have a lot of work to do, we have a long way to go and we need to educate everybody,” said Connolly.
DRPS is one of many community organizations that make up the Durham Region Human Trafficking Coalition. On Wednesday, a new resource website was launched which aims to educate students and their parents.
“When someone, like, says hi to you in public that you don’t know and is trying to talk to you, you’re going to be more aware and more cautious when talking with them,” said Devon Golding, a Grade 11 student at Sinclair Secondary School.
“Sixty-seven per cent of young people trafficked in Canada are in the province of Ontario and 85 per cent of those trafficked in Ontario are within the GTA, and Durham Region is a significant hub in that,” said Larry Shanks, Durham Region Human Trafficking Coalition chair.
Officials say one of the main contributors to the problem is Highway 401, which stretches the entire region.
“These traffickers will move the girls everywhere from Windsor to Montreal along that 401 corridor and in our region, in Durham, there’s quite a few hotels on that highway and every one is used,” said Shanks.
The Durham Region Human Trafficking Coalition hopes the more educated everyone in the community is, the more it can help combat the seemingly growing issue.