Sex trafficking 'definitely happening' and 'definitely on the rise'
Belief it can't happen in New Brunswick communities gives traffickers advantage, women's advocate says
As an advocate for women who work in the sex trade, Jenn Fredericks has heard stories about the underworld of Moncton that would shock most people.
Fredericks, an outreach worker with the Moncton YWCA and chair of the Sex Workers Action Group, said sex trafficking is "definitely happening and on the rise" in the city.
"Sometimes people will say it's more in the big cities — Halifax, Toronto, Niagara — but New Brunswick is no exception. It is happening here in New Brunswick and we do have individuals who are young, I'd say 15 to 22, who are very vulnerable and high-risk."
Fredericks said human trafficking needs to be discussed openly, so young women are aware and able to protect themselves from recruiters.
We want to get involved in public education. There are a lot of people out there ... who are completely oblivious to what's going on.- Steve Trueman , Community of Hope
"I've had one girl say to me that the place was locked up, she wasn't able to get out at all," Fredericks said.
"She was getting no money, she wasn't even being fed for days. She was beaten up multiple times and there was no way to get out and when she did leave ... it wasn't very long after that they found where she was and forced her back in the car to go back."
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Fredericks said there is a well-known trafficking "circuit" between Halifax and Moncton.
"I've heard stories where they have been beaten, they have been raped by the trafficker or the controller," she said of the victims she has tried to help.
"They're forced to use cocaine because [one victim] said, 'We need to be alert, We need to be awake. We need to be energized,' because they will go for hours. Call after call after call, so they are fed cocaine."
Charity hopes to visit schools
Steve Trueman admits that like many people, he had a lot of misconceptions about human trafficking, and about sex trafficking in particular.
The semi-retired Moncton lawyer said he was "spending too much time in my La-Z-Boy" and contacted his church, the Moncton Wesleyan, looking for a project he could help with.
I see it out in the community … recruiters hanging around seeing who is going out to the smoke hill or who is using drugs or smoking dope at lunchtime.- Jenn Fredericks , Moncton YWCA
Trueman was asked to get a new charity, called Community of Hope, off the ground, with a focus on raising awareness of the trafficking problem in Moncton and on helping young victims.
"They'd been talking about it, agonizing about it, praying about it for more than a year," he said of the group from six different churches that came up with the idea.
"We want to get involved in public education. There are a lot of people out there … who are completely oblivious to what's going on."
Community of Hope is already operating a 24-hour hotline for girls and women looking for support and is distributing cards that warn of recruitment methods.
Fredericks said high schools are being targeted by recruiters, who will try to engage with young people there.
"I see it out in the community … recruiters hanging around, seeing who is going out to the smoke hill or who is using drugs or smoking dope at lunchtime."
Traffickers dangerous, threatening
Although Community of Hope is just getting started, Trueman said the charity is already working with the family of a 21-year-old woman.
"She's been trafficked since she was 17 years old. We had her in a shelter situation about six months ago, and … her family was threatened with physical violence, so she went back. And she continues to be there now."
Fredericks said finding a safe place for women trying to get away from their controllers is a huge challenge.
"It's really tricky because you really need to have in place a solid safety plan," she said.
"Even if you have an emergency bed somewhere … you need to make sure that there is security around and cameras, because even here in Moncton, we've had a situation where the traffickers went to the place and tried to get through the window."
Trueman's research suggests women who are victims go back to their controllers an average of seven times before they are able to trust someone else enough to accept help to leave.
"We're at number three," he said of the most recent attempt to help this young woman. "We're hoping for number four sometime soon. We just won't give up."
Residential facility needed
Fredericks said her hope is that community groups will come up with a joint action plan to deal with the growing number of incidents of human trafficking they are seeing.
It's definitely heartbreaking. And you really don't understand it, until you hear somebody's story, just how deep that is.- Jenn Fredericks , Moncton YWCA
"Maybe some kind of program that is specific to those individuals who need those supports because that is one area that our community is lacking in right now," she said.
"If you stay in the city where you did get recruited, it may make it that much easier for you to get recruited again and get found, and then they control you so you don't have a say."
Trueman shares that goal and points to a facility in Nova Scotia that provides long-term housing for women and girls along with medical and psychological support.
"It's not a short road back for somebody who is getting out of this. A facility like that is something that Community of Hope would like to have and hopefully sooner than later."
Provincial strategy now in place
New Brunswick has a Human Trafficking Working Group, which includes police, provincial government departments, and many community non-profits and charities.
Cindy Miles, executive director of the non-profit Partners for Youth, which helps at-risk youth, is part of the working group.
She took the lead in writing a five-year strategy to prevent human trafficking and sexual exploitation in New Brunswick, and said community assessments revealed these are problems across the province.
"It's not just the location that is putting people at risk of exploitation for trafficking. It's about where you find poverty, where you find history of violence, where you find lower levels of education, where you find fewer social supports."
She said the factors that lead people to exploit others exist in all parts of New Brunswick.
"I've been involved in policy work for years," Miles said. "I've worked with vulnerable populations for years and this strategy was probably one of the toughest and the hardest and the most eye-opening work that I've been part of.
"I, like many other New Brunswickers, have always thought this doesn't happen here and it does and it's happening to kids in our communities, it's happening to our neighbours."
Talk to your kids
Fredericks wants young people across New Brunswick to be aware that human trafficking is happening here.
"I definitely see an increase in our community," Fredericks said. "It's definitely heartbreaking. And you really don't understand it until you hear somebody's story just how deep that is."
Barbara Gosse, CEO of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, warns parents whose children are using social media to talk to them about the risks.
"[Traffickers] will troll social media accounts for individuals who are feeling vulnerable," Gosse said.
"If a child says things like, 'I'm not feeling pretty today,' or 'I just had a fight with my parents,' these individuals, these traffickers, know how to zoom in on that and know … how to manipulate our young people and it's absolutely horrific."
Gosse said the biggest advantage that human traffickers have is that people don't believe it can happen in their community.
"Once we have an informed public — that is the best defence against human trafficking in Canada."