KAWARTHA LAKES- It took only one hour for Simone Bell to become the victim of human trafficking.
Bell was in her 20’s, living in the small town of Kanata Ontario, when she started dated someone she calls a “bad boy.” She says she was naive and didn’t realize the extent of what he was involved in. She was drugged, raped, abused and held captive. “You go through a million emotions, fear, confusion and eventually you are just numb and you check out so that you are able to handle it” Simone was trafficked between Ottawa, Toronto, Niagara Falls and Montreal for four years before she escaped.
She recently told her story to a panel of local groups in Lindsay, working to combat the issue.
Since December 2016, eight girls from the Kawartha Lakes and Haliburton have been rescued from human trafficking by the new Human Trafficking Unit set up within the Victim Quick Response Program in Lindsay.
They are trafficked from local hotels, homes and even the side of the road. Laura Proctor, Executive Director, Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Victim Services says the program received one time funding of $18,000 that allowed them to hire a part time victim advocate who focuses solely on human trafficking. “We work with our police and justice system counterparts to provide emergency exit bags, we call them “go bags” we provide shelter, arrange for emergency transportation” But the new, dedicated unit allows them to do a lot more for survivors. “We can access $10,000 worth of residential treatment, $2000 counselling for the victim and their families, $2000 for crime scene clean up if for example the pimp has tagged (spray painted) their car etc.” They can also now provide $2000 for dental care and $2000 for tattoo removal. She says most of the victims have been “branded” with tattoos so that other pimps know this girl is already “owned.”
Simone was one of the lucky ones. Her trafficker went to jail for an extended period of time allowing her to break free. “I didn’t identify with somebody who had been trafficked until two years after my exploitation because I didnt know what it looked like, I didnt know it was happening to me”
Haliburton Kawartha Lakes Brock MPP Laurie Scott has been working hard for two years to raise awareness. “I introduced legislation called Saving the Girl Next Door because that’s where these young girls are being lured from our communities and small towns”
On May 14th that legislation Scott introduced, became law. Bill 96, the Anti-Human Trafficking Act, based largely on MPP Scott’s Saving the Girl Next Door Act, became law after receiving unanimous support in the Ontario Legislature.
This new law establishes February 22nd as Human Trafficking Awareness Day, it allows victims of human trafficking to apply for restraining orders against their traffickers, and allows victims to sue their traffickers for damages. but Scott says there’s more work to be done. “There is much more to follow through on with respect to anti-human trafficking measures. We need public service announcements, we need education. We cannot allow human trafficking to be a normal part of our society. Collectively, we have to stamp it out.”
City of Kawartha Lakes Police Const. Ryan Boutin says girls as young as 13 have been rescued and the victims are often moved all across the country to work. “The issue with human trafficking is it’s a Canada wide problem, an Ontario problem and a Lindsay problem”
“Most of the victims aren’t what we think of as marginalized” says Proctor. “They are kids that have had the opportunity to go to College or University, have caring families” She says the gateway is drug addiction in many cases. ” They end up meeting the wrong people and they end up being indebted to those people, it starts with that debt”
And from there they are controlled by threats and fear. “Thats what was used against me,” Simone recalls. Threats against my family in order to manipulate and control me”
Const. Boutin says parents should look for sudden changes in their childs lifestyle that don’t make sense. “In young people when we see a sudden change in their peer group, they are becoming increasingly protective and private over use of social media, private of use of cell phones. They may be showing up in new clothing or have other material things that go beyond their spending means, often their grades in school will drop. It’s a combination of all these things that will indicate a problem”
Boutin recommends being aware of your child’s online activity and use of cellphones. He also suggest having an open dialogue about what’s going on in their lives as a big step toward prevention.
Scott Says she will be making sure the Provincial government continues to move forward with legislation.”I am putting the government on notice: I will continue to watch their actions on this file closely, but I appreciate the fact that we are finally adopting anti-human trafficking legislation,” she concluded.