Part 2: New champions needed to bolster the fight against human trafficking
Wrapping one’s head around the scale of human trafficking in Canada is like trying to lift a vehicle off a trapped body. But just as the fabled mother who moves a car that’s crushing her baby, it is possible.
To curb human trafficking, the more people aware of the issue, the less likely young women will become victims. Not only to alert those immediately impacted by the growing international sex-trade, but also to mobilize people, often in positions of power, who could help fight this alarming criminal enterprise that spreads across our backyard every day.
Creating opportunities for these inflection points is key, the moment a light goes on for someone who had not previously been aware of the issue.
It shouldn’t take the loss of a loved one to this modern form of slavery before individuals, and society collectively, start paying attention.
For Dr. Hanni Stoklosa, she got into medicine because she wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Not only to be able to help people on an individual basis, but I wanted to have a greater societal impact, and using the sort of platform and authority that comes with being a physician” can make a big difference, she tells The Pointer.
For the Harvard-trained physician, currently working as an emergency doctor for Brigham Health in Boston, her inflection point around human trafficking came while she was doing advocacy work around HIV/AIDS and other vulnerable populations. At the time, studies were just starting to come out detailing a revealing connection between the health sector and human trafficking.
“(The studies) were showing that trafficking victims were accessing healthcare while they’re being exploited,” Stoklosa explains. “You would just assume that okay, they might brush with law enforcement or some of these other sectors, but this is the first real, credible evidence that was saying trafficking victims are accessing healthcare while being exploited.”
Dr. Hanni Stoklosa
“To me, that was it,” she says. “We had no training on trafficking and I knew that I was not unique in that and that healthcare professionals across the globe, across the country, we’re going through the pipeline and hearing about domestic violence and all these other forms of interpersonal violence, but were not equipped to recognize, let alone respond to trafficking.”
Since that moment of realization Stoklosa went on to form HEAL Trafficking, an advocacy and support organization dedicated to fighting all forms of human trafficking. Before launching HEAL in 2013, Stoklosa said the United States had a small number of organizations dedicated to battling trafficking, but they were spread out across the country, without a centralized hub and cohesive approach to bring them all together.
“There was this hunger for community when I started talking to these people,” she says.
HEAL Trafficking has grown to include over 2,800 professionals and survivors from 35 different countries around the globe. The organization has been able to help countless individuals and organizations both recover from trafficking and better assist those in the healthcare field in identifying the warning signs.
One doctor’s curiosity and deep concern, led to an international effort in the fight against trafficking.
Now, with politicians and municipal stakeholders all meeting in Ottawa to discuss the biggest issues facing municipalities today, this week’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa could prove to be an inflection point for many political leaders.
That is, if human trafficking were on the agenda.
In Part 1 of this series, The Pointer looked at the potential impact AMO could have for both awareness and funding, if the organization and its members were urged to put their advocacy power behind the issue of human trafficking.
A spark in the mind of even one politician could send them back to their own community and start discussing how to confront this growing crime that is tearing many families apart, in towns and cities across Canada.
The grassroots are the place experts say the fight needs to start to curb the rising numbers of people, both men and women, falling victim to traffickers each year.
In Canada, the majority of people trafficked are females younger than 25 with Indigenous females making up a startling percentage of trafficked individuals. Young Indigenous women account for only 4 percent of the Canadian female population but represent more than 50 percent of sex trafficking victims.
Finding ways to prevent vulnerable women from becoming easy prey to traffickers starts with providing support, often at the local level. For municipalities that hold the pursestrings for the public health budgets and other life saving social services in their communities, becoming aware of human trafficking is the first step toward realizing the amount of resources needed to help not only survivors, but women who are vulnerable to becoming trafficked.
“If you’re not talking about why people get into this situation in the first place and addressing those underlying vulnerabilities and reversing damage, then you end up with someone who is going to be re-trafficked,” Stoklosa says.
In Ontario, the province recently announced a series of roundtables to gather ideas to battle human trafficking. The discussions will be chaired by Parliamentary Assistant Belinda Karahalios and Mississauga Centre MPP Natalia Kusendova, and are to include sex trafficking survivors, Indigenous partners, law enforcement and front-line service providers. The move struck some as disingenuous, coming as it did after the Ford government disbanded an expert panel set up by the former Liberal government in 2015 to advise the province on emerging issues about violence against women. No schedule for the upcoming roundtable is available.
If the province shows a willingness to engage on the topic, municipalities should see that as an open door to advocating for further funding to battle the increasingly disturbing trend of trafficking happening in our backyard. The ongoing AMO gathering would be a perfect place to do just that.
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