Monday is the first annual National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and according to Winnipeg police, the problem is an ongoing one in the city.
“We certainly know that human trafficking is here in Winnipeg — it’s happening on a daily, weekly, monthly basis,” Staff Sgt. Helen Peters told Global News.
“We certainly know the incidents of it are much higher than are reported to us.”
Peters said that contrary to popular perception, the majority of human trafficking victims in Canada aren’t people being trafficked here from other countries — they’re young Canadian women and girls.
“It’s our own Canadian citizens that are specifically vulnerable to this,” she said.
“Education is really key, and awareness is the biggest tool we have as a community to fight human trafficking.”
Peters said Winnipeg police have investigators with specialized training not only to help them identify human trafficking, but also to work closely with victims while conducting trauma-based investigations, as well as working alongside community partners.
“There are some key strategies that traffickers use to control and manipulate victims of human trafficking,” said Peters.
“One is isolation and you will see that people who stay very short periods of time in hotel rooms or apartments… Victims are kept out of the public eye, and more often than not traffickers will keep personal identification from them — they’ll hold on to passports, driver’s licences.”
On Feb. 15, federal MPs agreed, unanimously, on the motion to adopt the day, coinciding with the 2007 declaration to condemn all forms of human trafficking and slavery.
Joy Smith of the Winnipeg-based Joy Smith Foundation, which aims to eliminate human trafficking, called the launch of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day a “gamechanger.”
“Having a day means the survivors of human trafficking are not invisible anymore,” Smith told 680 CJOB.
“More people will learn about this crime, how to protect their children… and we could actually eradicate human trafficking in Canada if every community and everybody was aware of what’s happening.”
Smith said a key to achieving that goal is helping to remove the shame and stigma from trafficking victims who are trying to reintegrate into society after breaking free from a traumatic situation.
“These traffickers are professionals. They make a lot of money and they groom their victims in such a way that they won’t say anything, that they can’t say anything — if they survive… if they don’t just disappear.
“The families don’t understand why these young people can’t amalgamate back into their families after they’ve been saved from this horrific crime. We talk to families and survivors themselves about what’s really happened in their minds.
“You have to reprogram them because of this terrible trauma.”
Smith said her foundation doesn’t refer to it as “rehabilitation,” but rather “intervention” — because they’re intervening in the thought processes of victims and families to let them know it’s not their fault.
“With any other crime, people can understand that it’s not their fault. With this crime, everyone blames themselves — everyone but the traffickers.”
The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline can be reached 24/7 at 1-833-900-1010.