In light of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, police and community organizations are hoping to highlight just how prevalent and complex of an issue trafficking remains in Ontario.
One survivor shares with Global News how she turned her pain into purpose.
Kaitlin Bick is currently a support worker for youth experiencing various forms of abuse. However, she brings her own lived experience to the job every day as a survivor of human trafficking.
“From a very young age I just remember feeling like something was missing and I didn’t know what it was. I always thought something was wrong with me. I thought I was broken,” Bick said about her upbringing.
Living with low self-esteem and longing to be accepted and loved, the 34-year-old says during her teen years she fell into the wrong crowd and began using her body in exchange for drugs. She says at the time she also struggled with a substance addiction.
Bick was accepted into university, but dropped out a short time later, citing challenges stemming from a learning disability. She was also dealing with the pain of losing her mother. By the time she was in her early 20s, she was trafficked by her boyfriend at the time.
“I was trafficked to Calgary,” she said.
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“But you can be from Mount Pleasant and Eglinton and still be trafficked from Mount Pleasant and Eglinton. You don’t have to be moved in order for it to be trafficking.”
Bick’s trafficker used the internet to post an ad about her. Experts say it’s online where most trafficking is facilitated these days.
“With new social media platforms and increased access, I think what we’ve created is better opportunities for perpetrators to prey on the most vulnerable,” Boost president Nora Constas said.
According to Ontario Provincial Police, Ontario is among the provinces with the highest rates of human trafficking. The Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS), which is a partnership between a number of local police services in Ontario, released statistics Wednesday to raise awareness about the issue.
Since December of 2021, police have conducted 65 investigations, have helped 61 victims, laid 72 human trafficking charges and have charged 28 people. Investigators say the victims range in age from 12 to 47.
As for Bick, who was able to break free from her trafficker, she is now finding purpose in supporting those facing similar experiences.
“I really love helping people,” she said.
“And more than that, I really love being hopefully a beacon of hope for someone who doesn’t see the light.”