In all of Ontario, Simcoe County is No. 2 for instances of sex trafficking.
There were many startling statistics presented during a talk on human trafficking in Simcoe County at the Collingwood Public Library on Monday night. Sherrie Fraser, a social worker and youth advocate with the Child Advocacy Centre (CAC) of Simcoe-Muskoka came to the library to shed some light on one of the county’s dirty little secrets.
“I’m not sure how you would sleep at night if I told you about what’s happening in your society,” she said. “It’s here. It has been here for some time.”
Fraser’s work with the CAC includes working with emotionally, physically and sexually abused children under the age of 24. Her specific role is to work with individuals in Simcoe County that have been sex trafficked.
While Fraser couldn’t say how many people are sex trafficked throughout Simcoe County annually due to many victims being in transit, she did say her current case load is 265 active clients.
“We have two centres (Barrie and Orillia). We have two (social workers) in one, and three in another. No one has under 150 cases,” she said. “We are constantly doing back-to-back-to-back interviews.”
Fraser defined human trafficking as the practice of illegally victimizing people for the purpose of forced labour or sexual exploitation involving the recruitment and transportation and exercising control over a person to exploit them. The average age of a sex-trafficked person is between 12 and 24 years old.
“Simcoe County is identified as a source and transit location. We have access to 400-series highways. Off every exit of a 400-series highway is hotels and motels,” said Fraser. “The other problem with areas such as Collingwood is, it’s a tourist destination. So in the winter and summer is when you’re going to have the highest rates of sex trafficking.”
In 2018, there were 723 recorded cases of human trafficking in Ontario, the highest in all of Canada.
“No (other) province is anywhere near us,” said Fraser.
Over the past three years, Fraser said she has seen a shift where victims are feeling more comfortable going to police or reaching out to CAC directly. All of the data she provided during her presentation was for female victims.
“With the boys, we have no clue. It is not yet (socially) acceptable for young men to come forward. We do know, from the (Simcoe Muskoka District) Health Unit that there is dire concern for boys,” she said.
Fraser said one of the reasons human trafficking isn’t discussed as much in Canada as it is elsewhere in the world is due to public bans.
“If a minor is involved or there’s a threat that a person could be killed, it cannot be opened up to the public,” she said. “We always hear about these traumas going on in the U.S. Those traumas happen here, but we have public bans that smother the information.”
One of the common misconceptions Fraser said she sees is in public perception around the type of people who participate in human trafficking.
“Who are the johns? They’re people that walk among us,” said Fraser. “They’re not the people driving down the road in a big scary white van in hoodies picking up kids. They’re normal, everyday individuals.”
“They’re educated. They’re family (oriented). They’re business owners, coaches, peers, neighbours, professionals, teachers, lawyers, doctors, pediatricians, dentists. It’s everybody,” she said.
Fraser said the top factor that increases the likelihood of someone being sex trafficked is low self-esteem and self-worth. She said the main point of contact between traffickers and potential victims is through online gaming for boys and social media for girls.
If you know of someone you think is being trafficked, Fraser said it’s better to be safe than sorry. She advised that if you see someone in public and you have suspicions, you should call police.
At home, she said getting the subject of human trafficking out in the open is one of the ways it can be beat.
“Start having uncomfortable conversations on taboo subjects. Talk about sex trafficking. Take this information home. Take it to dinner. Take it to a friend’s house. Talk about it at family events. Do whatever you can to start building that awareness,” she said.
For more information on CAC, click here.