– by Amanda Preston
“This past Saturday, I was proud to walk with the many individuals who came to the Save the Children End Human Trafficking March in Owen Sound to raise awareness of and see an end to human trafficking in our cities, rural communities, country and across the world. We were encouraged to see so many cars beeping and slowing down to read the amazing signs that were created by organizer Jessica Ferretti and her girls for this march.
But, we need to keep this conversation going because far too many people still believe that human trafficking doesn’t happen here.
The reality is that you don’t have to cross our borders or travel to urban centres only to buy forced sex. Too many, unfortunately also believe the notion that this is only an issue that affects the underprivileged and economically vulnerable, however the simple truth is that under certain circumstances, anyone, can fall into the hands of traffickers.
Every victim – no matter how old or young, regardless of economic or social status – has a story. Their stories are each unique, but yet often share many similarities. The majority of survivors will tell you that they did not believe nor did their family believe that sex trafficking could happen to them.
But, it can and it does happen to anyone.
You see … “Exploitation doesn’t care what race, colour or creed you are. All it cares about is if it can get you.”
I know because it happened to me.
My story began 30 years ago. I was a small-town country girl here in Grey-Bruce in my early teens who had been manipulated by a new female friend and taken to the City of Toronto where I met a group of individuals who I soon learned would sexually exploit me. I am lucky to have been able to escape one day, a day that I barely can remember and it took almost 3 decades to muster up the courage to share my story so that others know that they are not alone.
I am grateful for the growth that I have begun to see in my community and surrounding communities with raising awareness about the issue of human trafficking. This is what gave me the courage to come forward publicly with my story almost five years ago, create a Facebook page Not4SaleEver: Fight Human Trafficking two years ago, begin attending workshops and become an active fundraiser and walker with the Free-Them Freedom Walks in Toronto, Ontario and have now created the CARE Package Project in support of The Women’s Centre Grey-Bruce and survivors of violence and abuse. I am also encouraged as I see our local police service, the Owen Sound Police Service and surrounding agencies (Violence Prevention Grey-Bruce, Saugeen Shores Police Services and West Grey Police Service) collaborating together to fight this issue, because it is an issue!
We need to continue to raise awareness and educate others to identify risk factors, take steps to keep our loved ones and neighbourhoods safe from predators, and recognize when trafficking is happening around us. While we continue to educate our children in schools surrounding the issues of bullying, drugs and alcohol, and mental health issues, let’s not forget the importance of this topic that also needs our attention more than ever in our schools, especially with the increased use of social media as a means to lure victims.
Statistics show that between 2009 and 2018, there were just under 1,400 victims of human trafficking reported by police in Canada, but this number does not accurately reflect the actual number of victims we have because it often goes unreported. Victims far too often do not come forward for fear of retaliation, threats of violence to themselves or their families by their traffickers, not understanding their personal legal rights, or not even realizing that they have been victimized and trafficked. And for those that do, prosecution can be difficult as fear often steps in with 60% of trafficking cases in Canada resulting in a decision of stayed or withdrawn, and only 30% resulting in a guilty finding.
I am one of the many victims that never came forward. So, while I will never get justice and my exploiters will never have to face what they did to me, that doesn’t have to be true for everyone.
This horrific crime may try and continue to hide in the shadows and intimidate those it tries to exploit, but we can say “no more”. We can be that voice that let others know that they are seen, that those chains of fear can be cut, because there are people and organizations that can and want to help!
Continue to spread the message and end the stigma of this crime so that other women like me can walk out of the shadows of their shame, blame and fear into a journey of healing and freedom! Thank YOU to everyone that linked arms that day and walked #OwenSoundSTRONG! ♡
If you suspect someone is being trafficked, please call the confidential Human Trafficking Hotline @ 1-833-900-1010. If you want to report a potential victim or crime, call your local police or remain anonymous by calling Canadian Crime Stoppers Association @ 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) or submitting a secure web tip at www.cstip.ca.