New collective created to fight human trafficking
A collective of community agencies working to fight human trafficking in Halton Region launched a new support model Thursday that will give those on the front lines tools to stop survivors from falling through the cracks.
Cindy Stover, co-ordinator of the Halton Collaborative Against Human Trafficking, described their new client-centred support model as a “wraparound service.” If used properly, it will help more frontline community workers recognize human trafficking, ask the right questions to stop re-victimization and connect survivors to the appropriate services, she says.
In the past, survivors often described not being believed or feeling stigmatized when they came forward. Care was scattered and agencies didn’t work together.
This was true for Robin Zee Zilberg, who shared her story through a performance art piece at the launch event in Oakville Thursday.
When she fled her traffickers the first time 30 years ago, she felt dismissed. She remembers only one police officer once saying something nice to her.
“All I remember is being on a bus,” she said of her escape, adding that when she got back to Montreal she was beaten.
She ended up back doing sex work in Nevada before fleeing to Ontario. It wasn’t until she learned, with the help of a therapist, to “selfparent” and take control over her life, that she could begin to deal with years of sexual abuse that began as a child.
The new model is the culmination of a year’s work, speaking with those who have been trafficked and with the agencies that try to help them. It gives stakeholders key questions to ask and a continuum of recommended responses that vary depending on whether someone is at risk of being trafficked, is in crisis, or needs long-term support after fleeing.
With the model, which can be accessed online, a front-line worker can ask the questions and immediately see who is best suited to help.
Halton is considered a hotbed for human trafficking, with major highway corridors, plenty of hotels, little organized crime competition and high-paying clients, Halton Regional Police Service Det. Sgt. Raf Skwarka said.
Last year, Halton police investigated 75 cases of human trafficking and laid 68 charges, well up from the 10 charges laid from 80 cases when Halton’s human trafficking unit was formed in 2013. Everyone agrees those numbers are a drop in the bucket, compared with how many young girls and women are being victimized.
Skwarka said Thursday morning he checked a website where sex is sold in Halton — and by 10 a.m. there were 33 ads for Oakville and Burlington. He noted a concerning trend of more and more young girls seeming to be the target of trafficking.
Typically, traffickers find vulnerable young girls or women online or out in the community, manipulate them into thinking they love them and are their boyfriend, only to pressure them to then make money for them through selling sex.
One girl can make a trafficker $250,000 a year.
Halton is not the only community working collaboratively, with coalitions popping up in major Ontario cities over the past couple of years.
The Hamilton Anti-Human Trafficking Coalition formed three years ago with 67 members, with a smaller working group created last year.
Wednesday, Halton MPP and Status of Women Minister Indira Naidoo-Harris introduced the Anti-Human Trafficking Act which, if passed, would give survivors in Ontario the ability to sue their traffickers and apply for human trafficking-specific restraining orders.