Human trafficking victims need more services in Halifax, advocates say
Dartmouth high school student says vulnerable girls need to be made aware of dangers
Advocates say more needs to be done to help Nova Scotia women curb a lifestyle of prostitution, following a major human trafficking bust in Toronto this week.
Police in Toronto identified Nova Scotia victims as part of an investigation called Project Guardian. Nine people were arrested and 61 charges were laid.
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- Toronto a 'hub' for human trafficking, report says
From October 2014 to April 2015, the Sex Crimes Human Trafficking Enforcement Team looked into a Toronto street gang called the Complex Crip Gangsters for what they believed to be a Canada-wide human trafficking network.
The arrests came as no surprise to Hailey Thomas, a Grade 12 student at Prince Andrew High School in Dartmouth.
"So many young girls are recruited from schools, group homes, things like that," she said. "If we could give this information to young women, they could identify, 'I think I am in this situation' or 'I think one of my friends might be in this situation.'"
At Adsum House, social worker Kellie McLeod sees women running from prostitution. The shelter provides refuge for women, children or youth who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
'It's underground and subtle'
"We certainly have gotten to know, too, folks who we suspect may be involved in recruiting so if we see them hanging with those particular individuals outside, that would definitely be a very clear red flag for us," she said. "We have to do it very carefully because one of the things we value really highly here is building trust with women."
McLeod points out that although Halifax is a small city, people are forced into human trafficking on a regular basis.
"I think it's a bigger problem than anyone would realize because it's underground and it's subtle," said McLeod.
"So when folks think about human trafficking, they think about [the] things they see on TV, but what they don't realize is that this is happening right outside their window and it just doesn't occur to them."
Staff at the YWCA in Halifax make more of an effort to speak directly with junior high students. Executive Director Miia Suokonautio says more needs to be done.
Traffickers also part of community
"Girls who are trafficked are members of our community and those who traffic them are also part of our community. I think that if we are able to do prevention, intervention and after-care with all folks who are involved, it's an important part of resolving the issue," said Suokonautio.
For Hailey Thomas, it all comes down to awareness.
"Especially being in a high-risk area like Dartmouth, if we start talking about this issue openly, we're essentially going to save lives."
The Nova Scotia government is working on Sexual Violence Strategy, which is supposed to be implemented this year. Advocates hope human trafficking will be addressed in the research.