Kitchener-Waterloo

'It Happens Here': New campaign warns girls about sex trafficking in Waterloo region

An educational campaign launching in Waterloo region this week aims to convey a message to the public about human trafficking: It Happens Here.

Waterloo regional police worked on 90 trafficking investigations in 2019

In this poster, a sex trafficker is pictured as a "wolf in sheep's clothing." (Submitted by Arianna Ongaro)

An educational campaign launching in Waterloo region this week aims to convey a message to the public about human trafficking: It Happens Here.

It Happens Here is also the name of a website that's been set up by the Waterloo Region Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre. The site provides information about what trafficking looks like in a local context and where people can go to get help.

The centre has also printed posters that are being hung at 19 local public high schools and put together a PowerPoint presentation that will be made available to teachers and school resource officers.

"We're hoping that victims see that there are options, there is a way out," said Julia Manuel, who is director of community programs at the centre.

The campaign website defines human trafficking as a situation where a person is manipulated or forced into doing something against their will. It can take many forms, but Manuel said sex trafficking is most common in Waterloo region.

Most local victims are young women and girls, says a campaign fact sheet. 

90 investigations last year

The Waterloo Regional Police Service partnered with the centre on the campaign.

Officers worked on a total of 90 human trafficking investigations in 2019 — roughly twice as many as the year before, according to the service.

Police laid 40 criminal charges as a result of those investigations.

Manuel said the rising number of cases could be due to growing public awareness about the issue.

Last fall, the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region launched its own human trafficking awareness curriculum aimed at students in Grades 7 and 8.

Manuel said the materials developed by her centre differ in that they target an older age group. They are also available for use outside of schools — in addition to high schools, the posters are also being hung in community centres, libraries bars and hotels.

Manuel said the more information available, the better.

"It's not a good thing that we have to do this … that this is happening in our community," she said. "But it's a good thing that that victims have options and that there are various agencies within the community that can provide support."

This image of a "Romeo pimp" aims to convey to women that traffickers often start by posing as boyfriends. After an initial period of romance, these pimps either coax or blackmail their victims into selling sex for money. (Submitted by Arianna Ongaro)

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