Campaign aimed at ending trafficking of youth launches in Manitoba

To mark National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a new campaign launched in Manitoba is hoping to prevent young people from falling victim to sex trafficking. Swidda Rassy reports.

By Swidda Rassy

Joy Smith doesn’t share the statistic to frighten, but to make people aware of a reality that’s closer to home than most may realize.

“Less than a kilometre from where you’re sitting right now, someone is being lured or trafficked,” said Smith at a campaign launch in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

The campaign is “See the Trafficking Signs,” launched throughout Manitoba by Smith’s eponymous organization.

It’s about helping prevent young people from falling victim to human trafficking by educating the public about possible red flags and warning signs.

The launch coincided with National Human Trafficking Awareness Day in Canada.

“From what we know, traffickers control through various means,” said Sgt. Andrea Scott of the Winnipeg Police Service. “As simple as basic human needs, controlling their housing, food, shelter, clothing. But they also look for those individuals who have vulnerabilities, addictions.”

Joy Smith speaking at podium

Joy Smith at the launch of a human trafficking awareness campaign in Winnipeg on Feb. 22, 2023. (Credit: CityNews/Swidda Rassy)

Smith and various law-enforcement officers are warning that youth are at risk of being groomed and lured into sex trafficking – moreso when they’re surrounded by technology.

“Especially in this digital age where the exchange of money and gifts can so easily be done. Social media sites are a very common recruiting ground,” said Sgt. Tara Clelland with the RCMP.

Some of the key signs to look out for include:

  • A child with two cellphones
  • A child with new clothes and jewelry
  • A sudden change in style of dress or makeup
  • A child with unexpected cuts and bruises
  • A child with an entirely different friend group
  • A change of attitude towards school and other activities

“They go after very young victims,” said Smith. “The average age of entry into the sex trade is 11 to 12 years of age when they really start.”

Smith, a former Manitoba MLA, says she’s worked with 7,000 survivors across Canada.

“It’s not just Winnipeg, it’s every city and more and more in the rural areas,” she said. “One of the biggest cases we worked on was in southwestern Manitoba in the small towns.”

Smith says talking to your kids about the signs of human trafficking can potentially save their life.

“We want this to be the conversation of families all across this country because it breaks my heart,” she said. “I can’t listen to another story.

“It takes a nation to stop human trafficking.”

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