Know signs of human trafficking, police urge

An Ontario-wide police strategy marked Human Trafficking Awareness Day by sharing statistics on a “challenging and complex crime” and urging members of the public to help it fight “for those who live in fear.”

Since its creation in December 2021, the Provincial Human Trafficking Intelligence-led Joint Forces Strategy (IJFS) – which is made up of 21 police services, including York Regional Police – has conducted 65 investigations and helped 61 victims ranging in age from 12 to 47 years.

Twenty-eight people ranging in age from 18 to 44 years have been charged with a combined 72 human trafficking charges and 167 additional charges, some related to assault, uttering threats, extortion and harassment. “Human trafficking is a challenging and complex crime, as victims often do not identify themselves as victims,” Det. Insp. Jordan Whitesell, OPP IJFS Lead, said on February 22.

“Traffickers also rely on movement and transporting their victims around the province in the hopes of concealing their crime. Due to the transient nature of this crime, one police service cannot battle human trafficking alone. We rely on our law enforcement and community partners and on the public for support. Together with the members of the IJFS, we will continue to fight for those who cannot, for those who live in fear, for those who do not feel like their life is their own.”

Ontario has a higher average annual rate of police-reported human trafficking cases compared to the national average because of its many urban areas, including the Greater Toronto Area. “Increased access to major transportation and transit hubs makes mobility very convenient, along with the easy access to larger hotels and other accommodation facilities,” Toronto Police Services Insp. Susan Gomes said.

Migrant workers, Indigenous women and girls, at-risk youth and those who are socially or economically disadvantaged are at the highest risk of being exploited by traffickers. “The idea of people being taken or kidnapped is a myth. The truth is that most victims know their traffickers,” said Insp. Tricia Rupert of Treaty Three Police.

“Traffickers exploit and use manipulative techniques to isolate victims from loved ones, creating sole reliance on them to meet their physical and emotional needs. Victims become dependent on their traffickers, making this crime all the more challenging for law enforcement. Traffickers form a bond with their victim, as a relationship, through violence or blackmail, and it makes it difficult to leave.”

Signs that someone may be a victim of human trafficking include being controlled by others, driven to and from locations, and escorted at all times; not having a passport or other forms of identification; and not having control of their own money or cellphone or having more than one cellphone.

If you or someone you know is being trafficked, call your local police. Visit the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking for more information on signs of human trafficking and resources for victims and survivors or call the national hotline at 1-833-900-1010.

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