The Immanuel City Church hosted a presentation on human trafficking in Cambridge on Oct. 21 with members from Beacon of Hope, an organization committed to raising awareness and helping victims of sex trafficking in the Waterloo region.
Kate Rockwell, who has been with Beacon of Hope for more than a year and manages some of the social media for the organization, said that more and more women are falling victim to sex trafficking in Canada, but knowing the exact number remains elusive.
“The trade is so secretive. It is not really possible to know. The conviction rate is very low. The conviction rate for this crime is only three per cent.”
Founding member of Beacon Of Hope Laura Ross said that most of the girls that are being trafficked are Canadian.
“Ninety-three per cent of girls that are trafficked in Canada are Canadians. Ontario is the most prevalent province for it. Half to two-thirds of all human trafficking in Canada originates in Ontario. Many of these girls are quite young.”
Ross further added that a high population of the girls that are trafficked are Indigenous.
“Two of the five girls that I worked with were Indigenous. The average age of entry in Canada of girls that are victims of sex trafficking is between 12 to 14 years,” Ross said.
Ross also spoke about the importance of media literacy for both parents and children.
“Parents really do not recognize what their kids have access to. They really don’t think it’s as bad as it is,” she said.
Rockwell added that education institutions have an opportunity to make a much bigger impact by first grasping the extent of this problem.
“There has been a definite increase in awareness and improvement in education, as more high schools are bringing in groups like us to talk. Ten years ago it was not something that was really discussed in schools,” Rockwell said.
“Probably what is missing in the school system is earlier education and awareness before grade 12. Whereas a lot of girls are entering the trade at the age of 12, that leaves a huge gap.”
According to Ross, there is a lack of emphasis on media literacy in our education institutions.
“Schools and parents can educate children on how to use their phones wisely, and how to be safe on social media. We need to discuss this in primary and elementary schools, talking regularly about safe social media [habits], because a lot of young children are using it, and kids often do not understand what is happening,” Rockwell said.
Rockwell spoke about the reach and potential dangers of social media.
“Young people are now using it. It is kind of a new phenomenon and we have not caught up with it. I mean the dark, dangerous side has caught up with it, but on the prevention side we have not caught up with it. The don’t talk to stranger rule is not just at the park, it is in our living rooms,” she said.
“The more friends you have, the more likes you have, so much value is put into that. So if a random person adds you, you are likely going to add them back, because that elevates your own status.”
Ross spoke about trauma and the very difficult domestic circumstances these girls experienced.
“Ninety-eight per cent of the people that were spoken to had some sort of relational trauma, like a divorce in the family or suffering abuse,” Ross stated.
“A lot of times these girls do not have a strong parental influence in their life. Many of them are in group homes, where they do not necessarily have a person to guide them.”
According to Rockwell, society needs to have a hard look at itself.
“The normalizing of the sexual objectification of women, which is rooted in the media… in our music and movies, we parade women, and that’s what normalizes the use of women,” Rockwell said.
“Girls are dressing older [at a younger age] because we tell them that is where their value is. The value is how you look. But the most import message we need to get out there is that you are valuable for you being you, and not how you look and what you can do.”