Human trafficking is an invisible crime.
That was the message OPP Detective Staff Sergeant Jennifer Patton wanted to get across when she spoke to Bancroft council on Wednesday.
She says that 95-percent of people involved in human trafficking are women, with 72-percent of those woman being under the age of 25. She says the traffickers will look for vulnerable, young women to take advantage of. They will come in with what Patton dubbed the “Romeo effect.” They will try to woo the girl with fancy gifts like clothing. “Just something to intrigue them and make a vulnerable young person think that this is the best thing that’s ever happened and someone really cares about them and will look after them,” she says.
Patton says it’s important to talk to the young person if you think they might be involved. “It looks consensual from the outside until those extra questions are asked,” she says.
Traffickers will often look to recruit young girls through social media like Twitter or Instagram or through a mutual friend. They look for ones with low self-esteem. Patton says maybe the girl is fighting with her parents. That’s where the “Romeo effect” comes in, she says. The trafficker will then begin to isolate the girl from her family and friends before beginning to exploit her.
Patton says that while trafficking has become less of a taboo subject lately, some people still find it hard to talk about. She uses the example of domestic violence 20 to 30 years ago. “It took place in private homes behind closed doors,” Patton says. Then, like now with human trafficking, people knew about it but didn’t speak up about it until survivors of it spoke out. “Because of that we are all becoming more aware of it,” she says.
“You want that young person to know it’s not their fault, reassure them, let them know that there is help and that you can find someone or you can be a support to them to get them to a place of safety,” Patton says. “Once they end up in a trafficking situation that’s controlling or exploiting, it’s incredibly difficult to get out of.”
There are multiple resources in Bancroft to help if you or someone you know is involved in human trafficking. Maggie’s Resource Centre and the Bancroft OPP can offer their support, but the Children’s Aid Society or the school the person involved goes to can help too. A national human trafficking hotline was launched yesterday as well. That number can be reached 24 hours a day at 1-833-900-1010.