Girls and women are being trafficked for sex in Waterloo Region. That’s the wake-up call issued by a report delivered to regional council Tuesday, Sept. 10.
But by telling a victim’s story, three local organizations have begun to open residents’ eyes to this reality, the report says.
This February, the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council (WRCPC), the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region (SASCWR) and Kitchener’s Registry Theatre partnered to stage Chelsea’s Story, by U.K. playwright Sean McGrath, in Waterloo Region.
“It really was able to land home for a lot of people that human trafficking is happening here,” Nicky Carswell, SASCWR’s anti-human-trafficking program coordinator, said in an interview. “It’s happening to Waterloo girls, not just immigrants, very much happening to Canadian women, girls, students, residents.”
The play, performed by volunteers for 925 local Grade 7 and 8 students, inmates and residents, is based on the true story of a teenaged girl groomed to be trafficked by her boyfriend, says the report.
That story is all too common in Waterloo Region. Regional police say they have dealt with over 75 human sex trafficking cases in 2019. SASCWR’s anti-trafficking program has seen over 100 clients in its year-and-a-half of operation, said Carswell.
Those are only the individuals who have come forward.
“A lot of the girls that have been trafficked, they still don’t understand that that’s what’s happened to them,” said Julie Thompson, coordinator of community engagement at WRCPC. “They feel that they’re in love with their boyfriend,” who is pimping them.
A 2014 Canadian Women’s Foundation report suggested the average age of recruitment is 13-14 years old.
“I think Chelsea’s Story does a really good job at highlighting how this looks in our community,” primarily the Romeo pimp, which is highlighted in the story,” said Carswell, “And it sort of shows the signs that people miss: the fact that Chelsea’s not going to school, that she’s being isolated from her friends, that she’s not living at home anymore, that she’s got a cell phone. She has a boyfriend that she’s not talking about or introducing to people. She has to answer her phone within three rings. She’s out late. She’s looking tired.”
Thompson and Carswell want the play staged for more students.
“We would like to do a professional version of the play,” said Thompson. “And so we’ve already got a company that’s interested in doing that, we’ve got people who are interested in funding this; what we now need to develop is a relationship with the school boards,” hopefully by next school year.
Carswell helped prepare a curriculum, R.E.S.E.T., that can be used to educate students in concert with the play. It’s included in the report delivered to council, available on the region’s website.
But education isn’t the whole answer, said Thompson.
“(There are) societal questions that we need to be asking. Because if there are no, if there’s no demand for sex with underage kids … there would be no way of making money from it, so you wouldn’t have traffickers. Right? And then you wouldn’t have victims.”
Victims of human sex trafficking can contact Waterloo Regional Police at (519) 570-9777, Crime Stoppers or the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.