January 26, 2023 0 comments
Crime Stoppers Month focuses on human trafficking
By Brock Weir
Social media has become a “highly effective and sinister method for sex traffickers” to lure potential victims, say advocates aiming to raise awareness of human trafficking in the community.
January is Crime Stoppers Month, a time to raise awareness of Crime Stoppers, allowing members of the public to submit crime tips to the police either by phone or online, with a reward for tips leading to arrests.
The theme of Crime Stoppers Month 2023 is Stand Up and Stand Together.
Crime Stoppers Month officially kicked off last week at 360° Kids, a Richmond Hill-based home for at-risk youth that regularly advocates for young victims who have escaped the human trafficking cycle.
The kickoff also heralded the launch of a new media campaign, endsextrafficking.ca, which aims to educate youth about human trafficking in the “online environment” where many victims are reached.
“While there are many horrific human trafficking cases where victims are recruited through threats, deception, violence and kidnapping, through this campaign we want to make sure our community knows this is not always the case,” said Sydney Teixeira of Renegade Digital Media, the developers behind the campaign.
“Social media has proven to be an extremely effective and sinister way for sex traffickers to access, approach and lure potential victims. We want to help our community better assess their relationships and friendships, especially the ones they’ve built online. When we launch the digital campaign, we flip the script and engage young people in the same online environment they often target. Our intent with the strategy is simple: increase awareness and education, and improve prevention and protection in our community.”
If the campaign resonates with those who see it, Teixeira added, they hope it will help people “feel empowered to listen to their gut”.
“If something feels too good to be true, it probably is. If something feels uncomfortable, please don’t ignore it. Support is available.”
360° Kids provides this support every day.
Bonnie Harkness, chief operating officer of 360° Kids, said the youth they see are the most vulnerable in the community and at-risk youth are targets for pimps.
“For us, this is where the whole program really started,” she said. “We started offering support and services to young people to help them move on from some of these horrific experiences. Our entire program was designed to help survivors of human trafficking and it was the first of its kind in the York area.
“You have to do something to prevent this from happening in the first place, so not only are some children vulnerable to trafficking, all of our children will be vulnerable. As a parent of two young women, I really appreciate the importance of protecting our children, but protecting our children no longer means protecting them. We have to make sure we get there and we have to enlighten them.”
According to York Regional Police (YRP) Detective Gary McBride, human trafficking is not limited to sex trafficking. They are seeing more trafficking cases where people are being exploited, “and they are being exploited because of their status, a lack of understanding of Canadian law and their rights here. These people work and live in miserable conditions.
“YRP relies on multiple community partners in the York area to provide resources and services to those affected by trafficking and to help them rebuild their lives…. Our investigators regularly meet with some of the most vulnerable people in the York area who have some immediate needs that most of us here today take for granted. Those needs are being met by our community partners, not just the police force and one of those community partners is 360° Kids and it’s taking place here in the York area today. Our human trafficking investigators know from cases and their day-to-day interactions with survivors that we are just part of the effort to combat human trafficking and human exploitation, including with 360° Kids, who also represent and support our most vulnerable youth in the region .”
McBride added that reports of potential human trafficking cases submitted by the police or anonymously via Crime Stoppers can lead to an arrest or save someone from exploitation.
“Those who are exploited are someone’s child, they may be someone’s siblings, or they may simply have come to Canada in search of a better life, just like most residents of the York area.”
Al Almeida, Deputy Head of YRP, added: “This year’s theme of Stand Up Stand Together underscores our shared values of inclusion, respect for cultural differences, equity and a commitment to social justice. We stand up together, we stand together for safe communities fighting criminal activity, and police cannot do this alone. We rely on members of our community to stand up and speak out against crime and provide information when they know a crime has been committed because we all want to live in a safe community.”
To submit a tip to Crime Stoppers, call 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or visit 1800222tips.com.