By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
A coalition to fight human trafficking has launched a new website www.stopht.com to provide help to those in need.
The website, officially launched at Sinclair Secondary School in Whitby on Sept. 12, offers information that can help family and friends recognize when a loved one is being victimized and how to get help.
Students and staff were given a chance to view a video from the website that illustrates how youth get lured into human trafficking.
“The reality is that human trafficking is happening in Durham Region – in hotels not far from your school, involving victims the same age as those girls in the audience…,” says Dt./Sgt. Ryan Connolly of the Durham Regional Police Service’s human trafficking unit. “This website is meant to open your eyes to how a human trafficker lures [their] victim and how hard it is for the victims to escape.”
Police spoke with 2,500 Grade 9 female students across the region last year, and Connolly says police will continue that outreach this year.
The website also aims to dispel certain myths around human trafficking, including where it occurs and who it happens to.
The DRPS Human Trafficking Unit was started in 2014. In 2017 alone, the unit investigated 27 human trafficking cases, resulting in a total of 210 charges being laid.
Connolly himself says this has been a learning experience for himself as well.
“I personally didn’t have a full grasp of the effect of human trafficking, and I’ve been an officer for 18 years,” he says. “After seeing the damage done to these victims, it will definitely change your perspective.”
The Durham Region Human Trafficking Coalition consists of a group of 30 organizations, including the local police service, Victim Services of Durham Region, Durham Mental Health Services and the Victim Witness Assistance Program.
“Everyone brings something different to the table,” he says. “The number goal is to provide immediate support to the victim in the field. All of these organizations help us immediately.”
The Oshawa Express has been investigating Durham’s human trafficking problem in its Fourth Estate section over the past few weeks.
You can read the third part of the in-depth four-part series about survivors, starting on Page 18.