A group of front-line agencies has released a strategic action plan to battle human trafficking in Edmonton.

The dark reality is an increasing number of men and women are being forced into the local sex trade.

"It's an underground crime," said Andrea Burkhart, executive director of the Action Coalition on Human Trafficking, the group leading the project. "Victims often don't come forward. They may not know what their rights are, so it can be difficult to measure. 

"What we do know is that cases referred to our organization have doubled year-on-year consistently for the last four years."

The report released Tuesday aims to cripple the trafficking business through increased community awareness, and help victims escape sexual exploitation with new outreach programs.

ACT Alberta's research, during the first phase of the project, revealed the city is home to a broad spectrum of traffickers, including pimps, gang members, family members, romantic partners, friends and employers.

Most victims know the person trafficking them; and Burkhart says women, minors, aboriginal people and new immigrants are particularly vulnerable.

"We do have their stories. They're difficult to read, but I think they're important to consider. These are individuals much like the rest of us who have hopes and aspirations. But in these circumstances, those hopes and aspirations are taken advantage of."

ACT Alberta collaborated with social and city agencies, including Edmonton Police Service, the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Immigrant Services Association, to assemble the strategy.

"It can takes years and years for a person to recover from the experience of being trafficked; they may require a whole slew of services," Burkhart said.

"So that's the reason why we work in partnership. No one organization can address these needs; it really does take a whole community."

Misconceptions around human trafficking are commonplace. As a result, Burkhart says increased community awareness is the top priority. ACT Alberta staff have already provided training to law enforcement agencies and a wide array of non-governmental organizations.

Burkhart remains optimistic.

"I think we're just cracking the tip of the iceberg, but I have a lot of hope that we'll make great strides on this in Edmonton."