Online child exploitation in Durham hasn’t slowed during COVID-19 pandemic: Police

Click to play video: 'Online child exploitation in Durham increases during pandemic' Online child exploitation in Durham increases during pandemic
Durham police say human trafficking and child exploitation are two of the fastest growing crimes in the country and the region. – May 26, 2020

Durham police say human trafficking and child exploitation are two of the fastest-growing crimes in the country and the region.

Despite the novel coronavirus pandemic, crimes of that nature haven’t slowed down, police say.

Before the pandemic, Jasminder Sekhon was going into classrooms across the region educating students about human trafficking and child exploitation.

She says COVID-19 has resulted in a change in how victims are approached.

“Traffickers are actually using COVID-19 as an opportunity to lure young people online, to build trust with young people online, to gain pictures, videos, things of that nature,” said Sekhon, victim services Durham Region human trafficking facilitator.

Since she can’t go into schools right now, Sekhon created an online video to continue to get the message across.

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“We talk about what online exploitation means, we talk about sexting because a lot of exploitation actually occurs between youth and a lot of youth are actually not aware of this,” said Sekhon.

Durham police say there was a 94 per cent increase in incidents and service calls last year compared to 2018. That increased pace has continued in 2020.

“During the pandemic, hotels, motels, they never close, they’re still operational and they’re still going along the 401 corridor,” said Sgt. Sean Sitaram of the Durham Regional Police Service human trafficking unit.

Sitaram says they’ve already responded to 43 incidents this year, resulting in 17 arrests and more than 75 charges laid.

“We expect the numbers to go up as our coalition expands and we spread the message,” said Sitaram.

“COVID-19 is actually making the vulnerable people even more vulnerable and more susceptible to human trafficking,” said Karly Church, human trafficking crisis intervention councillor — who is herself a survivor of human trafficking.

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She’s been working with other victims for almost two years.

While supports are still there, she says this pandemic has made things challenging.

“A lot of my calls are, ‘what am I supposed to do? Where do I access the same supports that I’m used to?'” said Church.

While the pandemic continues, the people who work to prevent crimes and help victims are being forced to adapt and adjust and they plan to continue to do so to help get their message out there.

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