A new human trafficking awareness campaign is driving home the point to Wellington County residents that it isn’t just a big city issue, it happens here too.
Human Trafficking in Wellington County (HTinWC) is a two-year awareness initiative with a partnership between Wellington County OPP, Victim Services Wellington and Crime Stoppers Guelph Wellington (CSGW).
This program is funded by the Community Safety and Policing grant which also includes officer training. A new webpage and Twitter account was launched June 1 to begin a rollout of the HTinWC education campaign.
“The biggest issue we find is that people don’t think it’s happening in rural areas and we know that not to be the case between our relationships with Wellington County OPP and Victim Services Wellington,” said Sarah Bowers-Peter, CSGW program coordinator.
The major issue in this, Bowers-Peter explained, is people in rural communities may not be as aware or alert for signs of grooming for human trafficking.
“If we can explain it, and have that conversation, so that they do understand it is happening, then it’ll prevent more young people from being victimized by this crime and it’s truly a horrific crime,” Bowers-Peter said.
Cst. Kirk MacDonald, Wellington OPP spokesperson, said it’s challenging to know the true number of human trafficking occurrences in Wellington County as it often goes unreported or initially reported as a missing person, sexual assault or other types of crimes.
Stats from 2016 MacDonald shared indicated most occurrences happen in larger cities, he said many of the victims are from small towns and rural areas.
“Human trafficking suspects will lure young people from all walks of life and communities,” MacDonald said, adding this could be online or in public building trust over time.
“The suspect may shower the victim with gifts and kindness. They may introduce them to drugs and gradually isolate them from their family and friends.”
Human trafficking is not limited to sexual exploitation but also includes labour trafficking, forced marriage and organ trafficking.
In the OPP’s human trafficking resource guide, signs listed include:
Signs for youth listed include dropping out of school or missing class regularly, loss of connection to family and friends, new friends who provide gifts, behaviour and mood swings and going chronically missing.
MacDonald said human trafficking victims are often from vulnerable groups such as Indigenous women and youth, new immigrants, socially or economically disadvantaged youth, and migrant workers.
“The OPP is committed to fighting human trafficking through intelligence-gathering and working cooperatively with our community partners CSGW and Victim Services Wellington to support victims,” he said.
Bowers-Peter encourages the public to pay attention to the HTinWC and CSGW social media channels as more information will be rolling out soon.
If you have any information about any crime, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submit an anonymous tip on-line by clicking here.
To report an emergency call 911 or the OPP 24 Hour Police Service: 1-888-310-1122.
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010.
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com