Human trafficking can be a heavy subject to discuss with an adult, let alone a youth.
Victim Services of Durham Region (VSDR) is rolling out a new program, going into schools shining a light on the ongoing problem.
Students get to hear first hand from a survivor.
Samantha Banducci was just 19-years-old when she became a victim of trafficking. It took her 2-and-a-half months to get herself out.
“We’ve seen cases where it’s only a few days before being trafficked, a few weeks, a few months, in my case it took a little bit longer,” said Banducci, VSDR human trafficking prevention advocate.
Now 29-years-old, she’s sharing her experience with students throughout the region.
She says in the beginning, she didn’t see the signs or red flags about what was happening to her.
“To me it was what you see on posters and in movies, the girls are handcuffed, they have duct tape across their mouth, they’re being trapped in basements and stuff like that; and that wasn’t the case at all — it was really a loving relationship at the beginning,” said Banducci.
According to disturbing VSDR statistics, human trafficking numbers have doubled annually over the past three years. It says the average age of a survivor is 17 and they’re being lured into the trade between the ages of 12 and 14.
“On one hand it speaks to the growth of human trafficking in Durham Region but it also speaks to the education and awareness we have around human trafficking and the fact that more people are comfortable coming forward identifying as human trafficking victims,” said Jasminder Sekhon, VSDR human trafficking prevention facilitator.
Victim services created the prevention program, targeting every school in Durham.
“By sitting back and doing nothing, we are not doing our job,” said Lorena Haley-Twiss, Dr. Emily Stowe Public School principal.
Haley-Twiss is encouraging the difficult discussions in her school.
“They need to know how to protect themselves, they need to know what strategies people are doing to try and lure them away from their families, to diminish their self worth and we need to build our students up,” said Haley-Twiss.
And students seem to be getting the message.
“It’s especially important for not just girls but for everyone because it can happen to everyone. But I think it happens to girls more because sometimes we can be more vulnerable,” said Grade 8 student Erin Herrington.
Grade 9 student Abigail Lee said she learned “to empower young women and empower people so that they are confident with themselves so they don’t have to rely on anyone else.”
As for Banducci, she doesn’t want to see any of these students go through what she endured.
“If we can prevent it by just informing as many youth as we can, that’s my main goal,” she said.
Durham Victim Services is not only going into every school in the region, they’re also educating parents and hotel staff about the ongoing problem of human trafficking within the community.