New service for human trafficking victims launches in Waterloo

The Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region's new anti-human trafficking program aims to be a “wraparound service” for those who are at risk of being victims of sexual exploitation

Program from Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region aims to be 'wraparound service'

A new anti-human trafficking program, created by the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region, aims to be a “wraparound service” for those who are experiencing, or are at risk, of sexual exploitation. (Shutterstock)

Human trafficking isn't just a problem at Canada's borders, it's also happening in the Region of Waterloo. 

According to Nicky Carswell, an anti-human trafficking support worker with the Sexual Assault Support Centre (SASC) of Waterloo Region, 69 per cent of the country's human trafficking cases happen in Ontario. 

"When we think of human trafficking, we typically tend to picture people who are being smuggled across international borders in crates and bound by chains, but in reality, this is actually a domestic issue," she told Craig Norris on the CBC's Morning Edition. 

"It's happening a lot along Highway 401 and the QEW where there's a lot of hotels and motels," said Carswell.

"With Waterloo region being so close to the 401, we're quite vulnerable."

The 'boyfriend effect' 

Most victims are recruited through what she calls the "boyfriend effect," where a trafficker targets a woman by gaining her trust and affection and then manipulating her into doing things she's uncomfortable with.

"By the time she realizes this isn't actually a relationship, but it's a game, it's too late and she doesn't have a safe way to get out," Carswell said.

"Women who have a connection to or are in love with their traffickers won't report. A lot of these women who are recruited this way don't even realized they're being trafficked."

'Wraparound service'

The new anti-human trafficking program aims to be a "wraparound service" for those of all genders, 14 and older, regardless of the person's immigration status.

"We want to sort of hug people with as many options for service as possible," she added.

The program offers short or long-term counselling, legal help, assistance with finding housing and safety planning to those at risk of experiencing, have experienced or are currently experiencing sexual exploitation in the Waterloo region.

The free and confidential service will also be tailored to clients' needs.

Carswell said she is starting to see clients and isn't surprised by the number of people who have come forward. 

"I'm not surprised and that's really unfortunate," she said. 

Those seeking assistance can reach the program directly during business hours at 519-571-0121 x111, through the 24-hour hotline at 519-741-8633 or by email at