Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign Educating The Public To Know The Signs & Help Victims

It’s easy to think of human trafficking as an epidemic happening elsewhere in the developing world. For those of us who live in the Western hemisphere, it may not be as easy to spot the signs of vulnerable people becoming victimized by this modern-day form of slavery. But the truth is, it is happening right under our noses, and often in some of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world.

We’ve shared a number of articles about the problem across the US and various campaigns and celebrity advocates trying to raise awareness of the ongoing criminal enterprise. The US isn’t the only place in North America where the trafficking problem exists. Canada also sees high numbers of people being victimized.

According to government statistics, more than 90% of sex trafficking victims in Canada come from Canada itself, and 60% of all reported human trafficking cases in the country occur in the densely populated Greater Toronto Area. Earlier this month at the Toronto Police Headquarters, Crime Stoppers and digital branding agency Tribal Worldwide unveiled a new awareness campaign designed to educate the public on how to recognize signs of suspicious behavior, and potentially intervene to help victims.

Law enforcement want to engage everyday citizens in this fight because the ability to have eyes and ears everywhere requires resources they may not always have access to. This campaign is specifically looking to target potential trafficking activity in the hospitality industry, as hotels and motels become popular and easy-to-access destination to take victims. Young Canadian girls of all socio-economic backgrounds, in big and small cities, are being recruited and forced into sex work.

A 2013 RCMP study found that worldwide, 98 per cent of sex-trafficking victims are women and girls — some as young as 14-years-old — who are forced to perform sex acts 365 days a year and are required to hand over all or most of the money to their traffickers. Although there are women who become perpetrators of sex trafficking, the majority of traffickers are still men aged 19- to 32-years-old.

The Canadian Women’s Foundation task force has also found the buyers are mostly married Caucasian men who are educated, employed, and middle-class.

The Crime Stoppers/Tribal Worldwide campaign uses search engine marketing to to target people searching for hotel accommodation in the Greater Toronto Area to serve them digital banner ads for Hotel De Jeunesse, a fake hotel found online.  At first glance, the site appears like an innocuous hotel site, with nothing out of the ordinary; but upon further inspection it becomes clear to users that it’s not a real hotel; but rather a powerful tool to educate the public on the disturbing displays of human trafficking.

“We wanted to reach people right before they entered into a known human trafficking hotspot so they could help us fight this problem. By creating a presence on travel-related platforms and in those micro-moments, we are able to unpack what signs to look for. The signs of human trafficking hide in plain sight and can be easily dismissed if you don’t know what to look for. But once you do, it becomes much harder to ignore,” said Marketa Krivy, executive creative director, Tribal Worldwide Toronto, in a press release.

The campaign also includes out-of-home placements across Toronto including, transit shelter ads, elevator advertising, TTC digital screens, advertising at gas stations and Mac’s convenience stores, and carousel ads on Facebook and Instagram targeting people with travel interests.  The creative discreetly places the scenes and signs of human trafficking within the patterns of hotel room fabrics, including the wallpaper, bedding and drapes.

On the website, you can click around and find helpful hints on what to look out for, not just if you are a hotel guest, but also if you happen to work in an establishment:

-Large age gap between male and female with no explanation for relationship

-Girls whose companion does all the talking for them

-Young girls who are underweight and appear malnourished

-Many male visitors coming and going from hotel rooms or parking lot

-Female appears dazed or distant from their companion or pimp who stands away from area

-An older man or woman checks in with a younger female

-Excessive amounts of sexual lubricants, condoms, lingerie and other sex related items in rooms

These are just some of the signs listed. A campaign spokesperson says it is important to distinguish between someone being a victim of trafficking, and those who participate in legal sex work.

“Human trafficking occurs closer to home than most Canadians realize, and the signs can be hard to identify or are easy to dismiss. Moreover, with the legalization of prostitution comes ambiguity over what is and isn’t a legal sexual service, making it difficult for everyday citizens to discern between a consenting sex worker and an exploited, abused and powerless victim,” said Sean Sportun, vice chair, Toronto Crime Stoppers.

This five week campaign, which ends on September 5th, is the first of its kind for Crime Stoppers, but we certainly hope it will not be the last. This is an ongoing problem which demands a long-term solution.

Similar to the way Super Bowl Sunday becomes a day of focus for the FBI in the US, where an increased amount of trafficking activity occurs and pimps are arrested in usually record numbers, in Canada, the Grand Prix Formula 1 weekend is the equivalent.

“Women are more targeted during the Grand Prix because sex tourism is in full swing during this event,” explained Martine B. Côté, a spokesperson with the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES) earlier this year.

The aforementioned RCMP study on trafficking in Canada estimates traffickers in Canada get about $280,000 for each woman or girl. Awareness campaigns must continue to educate people in various industries, tourists and the general public about how they can play a role in preventing the crime from spreading. To learn more about the Toronto-based Crime Stoppers/Tribal Worldwide campaign, be sure to visit the Hotel de Jeunesse website.

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