Hard life

Work­ing to pre­vent hu­man traf­fick­ing in Kenora and On­tario

Kenora Daily Miner and News - - LOCAL NEWS - SHERI LAMB Miner and News SLamb@post­media.ca

When Tanya Bel­more speaks her body twitches and she’s in con­stant move­ment, a likely af­ter-ef­fect from her pre­vi­ous life on the streets.

Now 40 and 11-months clean from her years as an in­tra­venous drug user, Bel­more has be­come an ad­vo­cate work­ing with the On­tario Pro­vin­cial Po­lice and other so­cial ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions in or­der to help other women, girls and boys or men who have be­come vic­tims of hu­man traf­fick­ing or what it is com­monly re­ferred to as the mod­ern form of slav­ery.

“I was a work­ing girl for 26 years and I’m try­ing to heal my­self and tell my story to get a grasp on hu­man traf­fick­ing, help get some strate­gies and work with dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties so that maybe other women and young men don’t get lured into that lifestyle and don’t have to go through all the dam­age that comes with it,” said Bel­more, prior to speak­ing at an OPP Vic­tim to Sur­vivor: The Road Trav­elled con­fer­ence held in Kenora in Septem­ber.

Bel­more’s speech, A Piece to the Puz­zle, de­tailed her his­tory on the streets from be­ing a 14-year-old run­away in Thun­der Bay to her re­al­iza­tion she de­served a bet­ter life then the one she was liv­ing, which led her to ob­tain­ing her own apart­ment in Atikokan.

“I was re­ally young when I started in this busi­ness,” said Bel­more. “I had a dif­fi­cult child­hood and I left home re­ally early be­cause of prob- lems in the home. I would run­away from the fos­ter homes be­cause we’re all seek­ing be­long­ing and ac­cep­tance and love and a sense of self worth and value. I don’t re­mem­ber feel­ing those things as a child.”

By get­ting out and work­ing as an ad­vo­cate, Bel­more of­fers a rare per­spec­tive about the life of a vic­tim of hu­man traf­fick­ing, there are far more sto­ries of women or men who fail to get out of the life and end up as noth­ing more than a statis­tic, or worse, dis­ap­pear­ing for­ever.

Two years ago in Kenora, the Kenora Coali­tion to End Hu­man Traf­fick­ing KCEHT), started up with its fo­cus on pre­ven­tion, read­ing the signs po­ten­tial vic­tims give off be­fore wan­der­ing down a dark road and try­ing to steer them in a more pos­i­tive di­rec­tion.

Kenora OPP Bob Bernie, a com­mu­nity mo­bi­liza­tion of­fi­cer with the KCEHT, said they strive to pro­vide ed­u­ca­tion, in­for­ma­tion and ad­vo­cacy in the com­mu­nity and raise aware­ness re­gard­ing hu­man traf­fick­ing.

“We un­der­stand that hu­man traf­fick­ing is a very com­plex is­sue. It’s very in­sid­i­ous and of­ten times ap­pears in dif­fer­ent forms,” said Bernie.

The dif­fer­ent forms in­clude sex­ual ex­ploita­tion, labour ex­ploita­tion and or­gan har­vest and re­moval.

“We have a vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tion in Kenora, a high-risk pop­u­la­tion of young peo­ple in our com­mu­nity who’ve ex­pe­ri­enced tremen­dous trauma and they have a lot of risk fac­tors and they’re the ones we’re try­ing to pro­tect,” said Bernie. “We know of cases of peo­ple who have been sex­u­ally as­saulted and as­saulted and we feel that these are pre-cur­sors to hu­man traf­fick­ing.”

Bernie said there are signs par­ents, friends, teach­ers or any­one who cares can look for to spot a pos­si­ble vic­tim - hav­ing money or pos­ses­sions they wouldn’t nor­mally have when they’re not work­ing at a job, un­ex­plained ab­sences, out late at night, new mys­te­ri­ous friends they’ve met on so­cial me­dia, trav­el­ing out of town, or any type of drug use.

“Any type of a dras­tic change in a child or a young girl would be some­thing that could be con­cern­ing and could be an in­di­ca­tion the per­son is be­ing ex­ploited,” said Bernie.

Be­cause she couldn’t go home and she was a run­away and a drug user, Bel­more was an easy tar­get for men to use her body be­cause she needed money to sur­vive on her own.

“I would say that the worst things that I ex­pe­ri­enced are what I did to my­self, be­ing down on the street and what that does to one’s psy­che,” said Bel­more.

Two years ago, Bel­more said she trav­eled with a good friend to a cabin in the woods where she had a re­al­iza­tion, “I’m worth more than that and I had a lit­tle value - some­thing in me said you’ve got to get out of here. You’ve got other places to be. I was given the op­por­tu­nity to get out and I took it.”

OPP In­spec­tor Tina Chalk (left) of elec­tronic crimes based in Oril­lia and Kenora OPP Const. Bob Bernie, com­mu­nity mo­bi­liza­tion of­fi­cer, helped put to­gether the con­fer­ence on hu­man traf­fick­ing in Kenora, Sept. 21-22.

PHO­TOS BY SHERI LAMB/ DAILY MINER AND NEWS

Tanya Bel­more

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