The tragic connection between the online world and child pornography, runaways, missing persons and human trafficking was front and centre at a two-day conference Wednesday and Thursday in Kenora, Ontario.
Human trafficking is not an issue confined to one location or group of people, said Insp. Tina Chalk of the Ontario Provincial Police. She oversees electronic crime investigations, and was one of the people leading the workshop.
Instead, it's a problem that haunts small towns, big cities, and all economic classes.
Human trafficking could happen to anyone
"It's a concern for everyone, it really is. Some of the cases we've dealt with are kids from families who have middle class lifestyles and they still fall prey to that," she said.
"Some of the vulnerabilities come from within themselves, and what they're looking for, " said Chalk. "It's difficult for youth. They have a lot of stressors today."
It's especially important for teenagers and their parents to understand that human trafficking can begin with something as simple as a lonely kid who finds someone willing to spend a little time with them online, she said.
Traffickers find victims from their homes
"It's a different world, especially the internet, which allows all of these offenders to prey within seconds. They don't have to leave their room, they don't have to leave their house, they can start that grooming process right online, on the many different sites that all of our kids are on."
A few kind gestures from a stranger are often enough to win someone's trust and start a relationship, either online, or face-to-face, Chalk warned.
"If you're meeting somebody, and they're buying you gifts that you think are impressive, or want to take you to the big city, you need to be alive to the fact that could be the start of an unfortunate situation that could turn into human trafficking," she said.
The anti-human trafficking conference brought together police officers, social workers and victim service experts from across northern Ontario.
Participants received instruction on everything from how to identify victims of both sex and labour trafficking, how to providing wrap-around victim-centred service to support them through to recovery, and the latest enforcement efforts targeting traffickers.
A similiar conference was held in Barrie, Ont., on September 11-12, 2017.