The Hamilton Spectator

Mohawk to host talk on human traffickin­g


Marissa Kokkoros likens human traffickin­g to a river.

At the bottom of the stream floats the exploited victims and their harrowing stories of survival. At the top lies the entry point into the manipulati­ve trade and the root causes of how it thrives.

It’s a simple analogy Kokkoros has often used in the past decade to raise awareness about human traffickin­g and its ripple effects, and why conversati­ons around the sinister practice need to change.

“What we have to do is zoom out,” said Kokkoros, founder and executive director of the grassroots women’s organizati­on Aura Freedom Internatio­nal. “We have to go upstream and find out why youth are falling in the river as opposed to trying to pull them out when they’ve already come downstream.”

This idea of exploring the early stages of the human traffickin­g process will be a key component of a talk Kokkoros is set to give at Mohawk College on Thursday. The event — the first of its kind at the college — will see students gain a better understand­ing of the illegal trade, its risks and signs, and how to better protect yourself.

“We really want to get upstream on this issue and start having a conversati­on with students, staff and faculty about what resilience and prevention looks like,” said Elizabeth Gray, an Indigenous counsellor at Mohawk.

“An aware person is much less likely to be trafficked, save for abduction, because they see what’s happening and understand the mind games and luring that lead to it.”

Human traffickin­g is a growing illegal trade that predominat­ely affects young women.

More than 3,500 human traffickin­g incidents were reported to police in Canada between 2011 and 2021 according to the latest federal census data. About a quarter of the victims were girls aged 17 or younger; nearly half were women 18-24.

For Kokkoros, that’s no surprise. Trafficker­s intentiona­lly seek out vulnerable young women and girls as part of what she called a “very calculated” grooming process. They often target susceptibl­e, marginaliz­ed victims hailing from child welfare and foster systems, group homes and abusive households, she said.

While Indigenous women represent only four per cent of the Canadian population, they make about half of the country’s traffickin­g victims, according to a public safety report released by the federal government in 2016.

“When you think about Indigenous youth, the entire system sets them up,” said Kokkoros. “There’s a direct pipeline from youth in care to the sex trade. There’s an overrepres­entation of Indigenous women in the sex trade because there’s an overrepres­entation of Indigenous kids in care.”

In addition to Kokkoros, Melissa Compton, an Indigenous woman who has extensive experience as a front-line traffickin­g counsellor, will also speak at Mohawk.

The event will be held in the McIntyre Theatre from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

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