Tackling modern slavery in Windsor

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Windsor law enforcement, welfare workers, social workers, and more were part of an intensive five day anti-human trafficking training course at the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society last week.

Windsor law enforcement, welfare workers, social workers, and more were part of an intensive five day anti-human trafficking training course at the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society last week.

The course, titled “Understanding and Working with Children and Youth who have been Sexually Exploited/Trafficked” and hosted by the Alliance Against Modern Slavery (AAMS) was designed following the release of the 2013 Global Slavery Index by the Walk Free Foundation that estimated an approximate 5,600 to 6,200 people are enslaved in Canada.

AAMS President Karlee Sapoznik said the course was brought to Windsor to bring awareness to the issue, but also to respond to the modern slavery that exists in the Windsor region, hidden from plain sight.

“This training brings together key sectors in the community to learn from one another, help draw awareness, and identify next steps in order to coordinate an effective response to human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, which is alive and well in Windsor,” said Sapoznik.

Sapoznik said that it was important to bring the course to the Windsor community because “Windsor is a key source, transit, and destination hub for human trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation in Canada and the United States.”

“The research we’ve done has revealed that there are cases here in Windsor involving human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation of men, women, and children,” said Sapoznik.  “The myth is that these victims are from abroad, but about 70% of the cases that we’ve seen from across Canada to date have actually been of our own domestic citizens.”

The RCMP’s 2010 report entitled ‘Human Trafficking in Canada: A Threat Assessment’ states that, “Recent convictions of human trafficking have mostly involved victims who are citizens and/or permanent residents of Canada trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation.”

“Many of these individuals are actually from Windsor when it comes to the sex trafficking issue,” said Sapoznik.  “The other two forms that we’re seeing of human trafficking in Windsor are trafficking for forced labour, which is quite big out by Leamington, … and trafficking for the purpose of forced marriage.”

She said that most Canadians aren’t aware of the modern human trafficking that happens under their very noses.

“It’s pretty mind boggling,” said Sapoznik.  “It’s something that we need to start drawing awareness to.  The RCMP estimates that only about 5% of Canadians know about human trafficking, so part of this training is to change that.”

90 percent of the course’s curriculum was written by survivors of sexual exploitation.  Internationally recognized slavery expert and survivor Jennifer Richardson facilitated the week-long course.

Richardson said that child welfare legislation in Ontario should be changed to allow intervention in cases where “third party offenders are abusing children, as other provinces in Canada has [sic] done,” according to a statement.

“Child welfare legislation can be extremely effective in disrupting this type of crime,” said Richardson. “When social workers are given the right training and are working under effective legislation that allows them to intervene in cases in which children have been trafficked, they can be a huge asset to criminal investigations and to the long term support that these children need.”

Sapoznik said that if there is a victim who is 16 or 17 years-old in Ontario, there is no mandate for intervention by a child welfare worker to ensure that the person is being exploited.

“From what we can kind of glean, that is the most problematic area in Windsor because the police can’t do anything if they see a 16 or 17 year-old who is being exploited,” explained Sapoznik.

A finding published in the RCMP’s assessment says that domestic victims have mostly been “recruited through the Internet or by an acquaintance.”  The report further states, “The victims were groomed, manipulated, and coerced to enter the sex trade.”

Sapoznik stressed the role of Internet sites like Facebook and Craigslist in recruiting victims.  She said that Windsor Backpage is a website that is “responsible for a lot of what is happening indoors.”

“You’ll see all kinds of pictures.  Some of these individuals are definitely adult women, but even police look at the bodies and … in some of the pictures you can tell it’s definitely a girl under 18 years old.  They won’t show their faces in that case because they’re concerned they might be recognized,” said Sapoznik.

Sapoznik said that, although it depends on the demographic, there are certain signs that could indicate that a child is being exploited.

“You might see, all of a sudden, their clothing might change.  They might smell differently.  Coming in [or leaving] at different hours…  They may be online a lot more or closing their bedroom door,” said Sapoznik.  “One of the biggest signs of vulnerability is if they are missing school.”

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