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.