'People hiding in plain sight': New video at ONroute rest areas issues warning for human trafficking
'The next step is to get mad about it,' says St. Thomas mayor
A new video warning about human trafficking and sexual exploitation could soon show up in your social media feed, now that a film displayed at ONroute rest area locations is available to everyone.
While ONroute media screens have the potential to reach 16.5 million viewers, creators of the film want it to reach even more people.
Click on the media player to see the Courage for Freedom's video on how to stop sex trafficking
The 14-second video was played several times during July 2019 at all 23 ONroute locations as part of the #ProjectOnRoute campaign.
On Tuesday morning, crowds of people gathered at 13 of the commuter rest area locations for the conclusion of the campaign and to celebrate World Day against Trafficking in Persons. The video was also be released to the public.
Behind the video
The video was created by an organization in Aylmer, Ont. called Courage for Freedom. The group educates and trains frontline staff and community service providers to help victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
"We need to put out the imagery that actually is more accurate," said Kelly Franklin, founder of Courage for Freedom.
Canadian agencies predict 66 per cent of human trafficking victims are groomed into service on the Ontario corridor. Most of the victims — 72 per cent — are 24 years of age and younger. Approximately 68 per cent are under 18.
Franklin believes the public sees sex trafficking as a "dark web underground" industry when in reality, "these are people hiding in plain sight," she said.
"These are just young boys and girls and they look like young boys and girls ... this crime is no respecter of socioeconomic status [or] culture [or] gender. We know that there's certain indicators that make young people more susceptible to this, but we also know that those that are criminal are actively working to recruit and isolate young people."
Franklin has worked with people in small hamlets to larger cities.
"It doesn't matter where they are — to the criminals, they're a commodity to make money. They will go after anybody that they think that they can coerce and manipulate to make money. They don't care," she said.
"We have to be [those] voices in the community cheering for [the survivors of trafficking], getting rid of the stigma. It's vitally important in order for us to not victimize and vilify those that are being subjected to these crimes in Canada," said Franklin.
Humanizing sex trafficking
While Joe Preston is now the mayor of St. Thomas, he was previously the MP of Elgin-Middlesex-London. During his time in Parliament, he witnessed teenagers working with Courage for Freedom — part of Farmtown Canada — to recover from the trauma they endured from being trafficked.
The Horses that Heal programs at Courage for Freedom help individuals living with PTSD and trauma from being lured into trafficking.
"Some miracles would happen with kids who had to help deal with horses," said Preston. "While I was an MP ... I became aware of what it was and when I left Parliament, it was one of the places I took on."
Preston said the video project launched at the ONroute locations peels back the blinders on people to create more of an awareness of what sex trafficking is, and who can become victims.
"The next step is to get mad about it and actually go about solving it," said Preston.
If people see somebody that is potentially being exploited or is believed to be a victim of human trafficking, sexual exploitation or forced prostitution, they can now call the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking's hotline number that offers strict confidentiality: 1-833-900-1010.