Stouffville church shining spotlight on human trafficking in York Region

A Stouffville church is shining a spotlight on human trafficking in York Region — an area where the sex trade is often hidden from view.

On Tuesday night, the #ShesNotForSale event at Springvale Church is bringing together experts, including a sex industry survivor, for a discussion on education and prevention about human trafficking.

"The more people know about human trafficking... the better able we're going to be as a community to keep it at bay," keynote speaker Casandra Diamond told CBC's Metro Morning.

Diamond, the director of BridgeNorth women's mentorship and advocacy services, is a survivor who spent a decade in the sex industry after being lured in at 18.

"I had met a guy who started showing me affection and attention and making me feel safe and protected and loved — but all the while, he was isolating me from my loved ones," she said.

Girls as young as 13 targeted online

Throughout Ontario, more than 60 per cent of human trafficking victims are between the ages of 15 and 24, 2014 data shows, with the majority being trafficked for sexual exploitation.

And Diamond said girls as young as 13 and 14 are being targeted, specifically online. 

According to the Women's Support Network, a rape crisis centre in Newmarket, sexual exploitation and prostitution in York region aren't visible on the streets, like in other areas such as downtown Toronto.

Instead, the region has an "online track," where ads are posted online for sex services. "A lot of the human trafficking and sexual exploitation that's happening is hidden in hotels and massage parlours," said Michelle Smith, the network's executive director.

Diamond said it's crucial for parents to keep their kids safe online.

"We wouldn't leave them alone downtown in York region, we wouldn't leave them alone on a street corner to fend for themselves — but we do that on the Internet," she said.