Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia opens new safe house for survivors of human trafficking

Young people in Nova Scotia fleeing human trafficking now have a safe place to stay with dedicated peer outreach workers who know what they’ve been through.

2 youth at a time will stay at the house for 3 months

The safe house for youth fleeing human trafficking in Nova Scotia opened this month. (Shutterstock)

Young people in Nova Scotia fleeing human trafficking now have a safe place to stay with dedicated peer outreach workers who know what they've been through.

The province's first publicly funded safe house for survivors of human trafficking opened last week. It will provide 24-hour support for two youth at a time for three months, and help them once they leave.

Unlike other transition houses, the staff have specialized training and experience in human trafficking, said Miia Suokonautio, director of the YWCA of Halifax, which helped co-ordinate the Safer Spaces Emergency Housing project.

The young people who stay in the house are all participants of the YWCA's Nova Scotia Transition and Advocacy for Youth program.

"It is very important to have peer outreach workers because they have been in the same situation and they know what is commonly referred to as the game, and they know the risks and vulnerabilities that youth are facing when they get involved," Suokonautio told CBC's Information Morning on Friday.

The location of the house is secret and Suokonautio said there's tight security to keep the girls safe, especially because some of them will become witnesses in criminal cases.

Some survivors are recruited as young as 13, she said.

"Every staff member and participant in the property has a panic button that they wear on their body at all times. We have regular perimeter checks several times a day," she said, adding they're working with Halifax Regional Police to have the house closely monitored by officers.

Help after 3-month stay

Staff will also be there to help when the young women leave after three months.

"We would never put someone in danger, and so we have a full-time housing co-ordinator who is part of this program whose job from day one is to look at what's going to happen in three months," Suokonautio said.

That could include helping someone leave the province if it was too dangerous for them to stay.

Staff are also working to educate police and the public prosecution about the differences between sex work and human trafficking.

"The latter has components of a financial motive. Often they have a very long timeline in terms of grooming and then recruitment, and there are control elements that look very different," Suokonautio said.

She's been working with others to make the safe house a reality for more than six years, but said there's more work still to do.

There's space for just two people right now, but Suokonautio said they will keep a list of how many referrals they get and if they have to turn anyone away.

"My hope is that we really move the needle on this in the next few years and get to a better place," she said.

With files from CBC's Information Morning