Anti-traf­fick­ing on­line cam­paign reaches wide au­di­ence

St. Thomas Times-Journal - - LOCAL NEWS - JEN­NIFER BIEMAN

The Lon­don Abused Women’s Cen­tre says an anti-traf­fick­ing on­line ad cam­paign that drew scores of calls for help from women and girls was so suc­cess­ful, it’s al­ready plan­ning an­other.

The on­line ads, tar­get­ing both pos­si­ble sex traf­fick­ing vic­tims and sex buy­ers, ap­peared or were viewed 980,338 times, ac­cord­ing to fi­nal num­bers from the four-month spring cam­paign, the cen­tre said Thurs­day.

Search en­gine ads tar­get­ing po­ten­tial sex abuse vic­tims drew 117 calls to the cen­tre from women and girls who clicked on the phone num­ber link in the ad.

“These are just the ones we know of, who clicked on their phone to call af­ter see­ing the ad . . . There are likely oth­ers,” said cen­tre ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Me­gan Walker. “It ex­ceeded all ex­pec­ta­tions . . . We thought if we could help one woman, just one woman, it would be worth the in­vest­ment.”

The four-month, $14,000 ef­fort by the cen­tre, Youth Op­por­tu­ni­ties Un­lim­ited and Sal­va­tion Army Cor­rec­tional and Jus­tice Ser­vices be­gan April 18. Ads were di­rected at Lon­don and com­mu­ni­ties within 25 kilo­me­tres of the city.

The groups, aided by Lon­don web de­sign firm tbk Cre­ative, ran tar­geted Face­book ads to reach po­ten­tial sex traf­fick­ing vic­tims and po­ten­tial buy­ers. They also opted for search en­gine ads that popped up when spe­cific key­words were en­tered or when the searcher matched cer­tain ge­o­graphic or de­mo­graphic cri­te­ria.

“When you think it’s just di­rected to Lon­don and it was only four months long, it’s pretty over­whelm­ing, it’s pretty ex­cit­ing,” Walker said. “And for us, it shows that it is def­i­nitely a new way to tar­get and reach peo­ple.”

The cam­paign wasn’t just de­signed to reach po­ten­tial vic­tims, Walker said. It also sought to ed­u­cate sex buy­ers about the le­gal con­se­quences they could face.

Dur­ing the cam­paign, some­one search­ing for es­cort ser­vices in the city, for ex­am­ple, could see the ad tar­get­ing sex buy­ers. Click­ing on it brought up in­for­ma­tion on Canada’s pros­ti­tu­tion laws and penal­ties.

“Many men don’t un­der­stand that what they are do­ing is il­le­gal,” Walker said. “We wanted to make sure they had solid knowl­edge of the leg­is­la­tion.”

Canada’s ex­ist­ing pros­ti­tu­tion law, in­tro­duced by the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment in 2014, crim­i­nal­izes pimp­ing, own­ing broth­els and buy­ing sex.

“Our goal is ul­ti­mately to end de­mand and I think the more in­for­ma­tion we can pro­vide to men about what pros­ti­tu­tion and ex­ploita­tion and traf­fick­ing is, the bet­ter re­sults we’ll see in men end­ing that be­hav­iour,” Walker said.

The cen­tre is launch­ing an­other dig­i­tal ad cam­paign next month for its Shine the Light on Woman Abuse ini­tia­tive to raise aware­ness of vi­o­lence against women and girls.

The agency is seek­ing fund­ing for an­other anti-sex traf­fick­ing on­line ad blitz, Walker said.

“I think it’s had a re­ally dra­matic and sig­nif­i­cant im­pact and it’s some­thing I want to con­tinue to do,” she said. “117 women is ob­vi­ously just the tip of the ice­berg.”

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