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HUMAN TRAFFICKING: A COMMUNITY ARMED WITH AWARENESS

Submitted by Christine Whelan

MAY 13, 2021 VOL. 2 ISSUE 19

Detective Sergeant Ryan McComber of the Niagara Regional Police Service’s Human Trafficking Unit provided Mayor Redekop and Council with an update on the topic of Human Trafficking during the Town Council Meeting held Monday, April 26th.

McComber began his presentation by introducing his unit. “We are made up of three people. Including myself, there are two Detective Constables. We are a part of the Special Victims Unit which operates out of the headquarters in Niagara Falls and works throughout the region. And as of this year, we’ve also become part of a Joint Forces Strategy. It’s coordinated by the OPP. It gives us the opportunity to be part of multi-jurisdictional investigations that relate to human trafficking.”

What is Human Trafficking?

Detective Sergeant McComber provided a definition. “When we say human trafficking, we’re talking about the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and exercising control, direction, and influence of the movements of a person. And exploiting that person for the purposes that are either sexual exploitation or forced labour.”

Currently, he added, they are dealing primarily with issues of sexual exploitation.

Some Indicators of Human Trafficking

The Detective Sergeant listed, with explanation, some of the signs the community as a whole can look out for to follow up with help. He said it’s especially important for hotels, motels and short-term rental owners to be aware and draw attention to it.

“Victims can be any gender but what we primarily are seeing are females.” A lot of young females are being targeted — teens to early 20’s.

“Females will be isolated, travelling from city to city, from short-term rentals, hotels and motels. They are very transient.”

  • There is not a lot of freedom. Their movements are restricted by their trafficker.
  • There is often branding or tattooing declaring ownership by the trafficker over the person.
  • They commonly work very long hours with no days off.
  • They may show signs of sleep deprivation, fatigue, malnutrition and in some cases, drug use.
  • Many travel with very few items, minimal amount of clothing. The clothing they have with them may be relevant to the sex work.
  • A lot of victims don’t have possession of their own cash. Any funds that they do receive from the services provided is taken and controlled by the trafficker.
  • Often the trafficker is in control of the victim’s identification and passport. ID may be shown on the victim’s phone as a photo but not as physical documents.
  • Some show signs of physical and emotional abuse.
  • Some show dependency on the trafficker when they’re in direct contact with the trafficker.
  • Communication may be restricted with loved ones.
  • Victims might mention large debts. The trafficker will make them work off what they say is a debt. But they never really get out of that life of being exploited.

Motels and Hotels

For people working in motels and hotels, this is an opportunity to come in contact with the victims on their own.

“Some of the indicators we deal with regarding hotels and motels are, that they may show signs of distress or that they are being coerced into signing in. They may not be forthcoming with their ID or information about the vehicle that they may have travelled in. If a trafficker is renting the room, they may not mention the other occupants.”

McComber explained the most obvious sign is the repeated traffic to the rooms. “Often what they are doing is posting online ads, which are being responded to by clients. Throughout the day, you will see numerous attendees.”

He added, “We’re seeing trends of paying by cash and then extending it day by day.”

How to Help

Resources: “We have numerous resources in Niagara that are available for victims. Services range from Victims Services Niagara, YWCA, Niagara Health System, and depending on the age, Family and Children’s Services (FACS). In Fort Erie, we have the Niagara Chapter of Native Women through the Ontario Native Women’s Association.”

Be Aware: “The biggest thing that I want to get across is that the traffickers often find people who are vulnerable and then they exploit those vulnerabilities.”

Educate: McComber encourages parents, teachers and members of the community to identify those vulnerable people and then educate them on the topic of human trafficking

Councillor Dubanow inquired, “Are there any specific women who are most vulnerable?” referring to demographics such as socio-economic factors.

The Detective Sergeant replied with factors to look for. “Those going through hard times because of the pandemic and need money, those who may have had a difficult upbringing and those who are abusing drugs and need money for their habit.”

He admitted, it is difficult to get them on board.

“A big topic recently, especially with teenagers, is the social media approach. Teenagers are targeted by traffickers online. They are sending out numerous invites to anybody, primarily female, but any gender.”

McComber urges parents to educate their children as a lot of the time their online activity is not monitored so, he stresses, the children need to be armed with awareness.

“A random friend request by a stranger can turn into a relationship that could build very innocently and then lead to a situation of sexual exploitation.”

He talked about malls. When they are open, they tend to be a gathering place for teens, and prime locations for traffickers with the goal of approaching and recruiting them.

“When we’re talking about these victims, it’s different than say, in comparison to drug trafficking, where a person has to continually go back to get more drugs in order to sell those drugs. When we’re talking about human trafficking, that’s a replenishable resource. So, if they can exploit a female, it’s just a matter of making more dates for that female, taking her to different cities, creating that scenario of isolation.

Some of the reasons we don’t see victims coming forward.

Some reasons seem straight forward. “They may be fearing for their own safety or they may be fearing for the safety of their friends and family who the trafficker might make threats to hurt.”

Other reasons are more complicated. “Some don’t even understand that they are being victimized. There may be a bit of a relationship there where there’s love or compassion shown by the trafficker. The victim would do anything for this person.”

Some victims, if they’re coming from out of the country, may be misinformed about their rights here, in Canada. “They may not have the same relationship with law enforcement in their own country, so there may be a bit of a distrust issue we have to deal with.”

With the travel, the victim won’t know her surroundings and her trafficker won’t communicate this information to keep them isolated and in the dark.

Current focus

“We’re making a great effort to educate these hotels and motels about some of the indicators. We are also being proactive in trying to speak with the females who are involved in posting ads.”

McComber clarified, ” When we meet these females, we talk to find out if they are working independently, trying to establish if they are being trafficked. We provide them with the various resources.” Their goal is to get the message out to them, the resources are there to help them.

Councillor Dubanow asked what specifically can be done to help identify this activity with regards to short-term rentals. “We are really working hard on the issues. What can we do?”

McComber stressed, “Neighbours are key. Members of the community, if aware of a short-term rental, can make the Mayor and Council aware of any activity. We recommend all short-term rentals be licenced. There’s a responsibility of the owner of the rental to be aware of who’s renting and monitor for the mentioned indicators.”

Councillor Zanko first assured that the rentals will need to be licenced, then inquired about material such as a pamphlet that can be provided to short-term renters to educate. The Detective Sergeant stated he recently talked with Crime Stoppers and they are in the process of creating one.

Councillor McDermott asked about an educational program in the high schools. McComber said there was nothing at this time, however there are plans for the future to educate guidance counsellors and teachers.

Reporting Options

“If there’s ever an emergency, the go-to is always 911. If it’s not an emergency and someone wants to make a report on human trafficking, we recommend calling the Niagara Regional Police Service. A uniformed officer will come and take that initial report. This will be followed up by our unit. We are also available, as a unit, to contact directly.”

Victim Services Niagara is available to take a call at any time. There’s Crime Stoppers and a Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline that is able to provide resources as well as law enforcement.

To see this presentation, you can find the YouTube video of the Town Council Meeting at: youtube.com/townofforterie

Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010 (or use the chat function on canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca)

Victims Services Niagara: 905-688-4111 ext. 5084

Niagara Regional Police Service: 905-688-4111

YWCA: 289-267-0411

Niagara Health System: 905-378-4647

Family and Children’s Services (FACS): 905-937-7731

Niagara Chapter of Native Women: 905-871-8770

There are no upcoming events at this time.