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Loss of funding to fight human trafficking to impact over 600 women and girls, LAWC says

The London Abused Women's Centre is offering online and over-the-phone counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The London Abused Women's Centre is offering online and over-the-phone counseling during the COVID-19 pandemic. London Abused Women's Centre Website

The London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) said programs that help over 600 women and girls who are victims of human trafficking are being cancelled after the federal government denied funding.

LAWC, in addition to other organizations, was receiving funding through the Measures to Address Prostitution Initiatives (MAPI) fund, a five-year program that ended in March 2020.

MAPI provided funding for women and girls at risk of trafficking and those who were trafficked.

While in operation, the program helped a total of 3,107 trafficked, prostituted, sexually-exploited and at-risk women and girls in London. This included individual long-term, trauma-informed service to 650 trafficked and sexually exploited women and girls, 939 at-risk women and girls who attended groups, 173 family members from across Canada looking for their missing daughters, and 1,343 at-risk women and youth through community outreach.

READ MORE: London Abused Women’s Centre still offering services online, by phone amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Megan Walker, executive director of the LAWC said organizations receiving funding under that program were told to apply to a new fund in October.

After months of not hearing anything, she said the organizations started making calls, which is when Walker said they were told in March there was no money in that fund.

“Our year-end is March 31, so nobody bothered to send us any information,” she said. “We were all completely ignored.

“The LAWC has been providing a trafficking program now that has not been funded for the last six weeks, and because the government had no funding, we are set to close the program by the end of the month.”

Following the LAWC’s release to media, the Office of the Minister of Justice and the Office of the Minister of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE) responded in a statement.

“Our Government is committed to combating human trafficking and to better protecting victims, who are among society’s most vulnerable. Human trafficking is a very serious criminal offence, and our government is committed to strengthening efforts to combat it through the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking,” the statement read.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: London City Hall supporting women at increased risk of abuse during COVID-19 pandemic

In September 2019, the federal government announced $75 million in funding to create the National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking to rescue and prevent women and children from being forced into the sex trade.

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According to the Ministry of Justice and WAGE, they will be working with provinces and territories, stakeholders, experts and those with lived experience in the coming months to develop a national action plan to address and prevent gender-based violence.

Following this statement, Walker was unimpressed with the timeframe.

“I can’t believe any government can say they are committed to ending trafficking while taking another couple months to review things and, in the meantime, leaving women and girls with not one place to go for service,” Walker said.

“Girls who are as young as 12 years old come into our office and what they share with us as their experience is the most horrendous thing you could have happen in their family, and that is what will continue because of this government’s irresponsibility.”

The statement from the Office of the Minister of Justice and WAGE said they are working to find solutions for organizations impacted by the loss of the MAPI to enable them to continue their work.

Funding for the provincially-funded program will remain, but Walker said it’s not enough to make up for the loss of federal funding.

“I am going to be calling women to tell them I am very sorry, you no longer qualify for that program,” Walker said.

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