The Women’s Centre Grey Bruce has launched its anti-human trafficking program to support young victims and survivors of human trafficking in the community.
Known as Our Place, the program will partner with community agencies to provide numerous supports including counselling, outreach, housing for youth, along with an educational component in local schools.
Paula Carnakie, a program manager at The Women’s Centre, said that they have already seen the need for the program in the community through the outreach work they have been doing leading up to Thursday’s launch.
“Even though we launched the program today we started our outreach before because people have been calling needing supports and we are not going to leave them out there,” Carnakie said Thursday. “We have already been providing outreach supports to persons in the community leading up to today.”
The program is being funded by the province’s Anti-Human Trafficking Community Support Fund. The Women’s Centre received more than $1.3 million to implement the program through to March 2025. The Owen Sound, West Grey, Hanover, Neyaashiinigmiing and Saugeen Shores police services also recently received more than $315,000 to fight human trafficking in partnership with support agencies.
The Our Place program at the The Women’s Centre will provide an in-residence program with counselling and other supports for victims under the age of 16. It will also include a crisis line, outreach support and education in the schools and community.
Carnakie said they have been working on the program for some time now. In January they started with three staff members to build the programming. They have been reaching out to people in the community letting them know what the services will look like and to let them know they can provide the training for staff to help identify clients that may be victims of human trafficking or at risk of being trafficked. They have also been speaking with the schools, along with South Bruce OPP, to provide information about human trafficking to reduce the risk to students.
“We have been speaking with schools in the area and they are recognizing the needs,” said Carnakie. “They are saying that they have students who would definitely benefit from our program.”
The residential component for boys and girls up to age 16, which will include support, and connections with other community partners depending on need, started operating on Thursday. They are currently able to accommodate two victims, with four bedrooms to be available by the start of May. Once COVID restrictions are eased they hope to be able to have up to eight residents at one time for up to a year each. There will also be outreach to many more in the community.
Officials have said human trafficking – the movement of people across areas without their consent, usually for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labour — has been a growing problem in Grey-Bruce. Because it is a highly underreported crime, local statistics are considered unreliable, but based on the information available there is believed to be a high level of human trafficking in the region.
“It is not on the radar and a lot of people may say it doesn’t exist in their community, but that is because it is a silent crime that happens in our communities,” said Carnakie. “If you are not in the know, you just don’t know about it, but once you recognize the basic signs we are informing people about on our website you are able to see it is happening around us.”
The program will help residents learn the signs of trafficking through education and information, which is available at www.thewomenscentre.org/ourplace
Suspected victims of trafficking are asked to connect with trained staff by calling 519-371-5818.
Human trafficking can often be hard to identify for someone who doesn’t know what signs to look for, which the website helps to explain in further detail. Child human trafficking can come in many forms, including child sexual exploitation, forcing children to work as illegal labourers, child marriage, child forced criminality, or child forced drug dealing.
“Community awareness is key,” said Carnakie. “Community awareness will not only be in schools but in the community at large and we will try to find platforms to provide the information to parents and the general public.”
Carnakie said often one of the hardest parts of getting help for those who need it is that initial contact and they want to provide all the tools to make that as easy as possible.
“You don’t know whether or not you can trust somebody to tell them this is happening to you, and will they be able to provide any support that you need,” she said. “Being able to actually share this information with an agency that can provide the support is certainly important.”
Carnakie said that while the focus of the program is for youth up to age 16, those who are older can still get support through other programs, including the Women’s Centre, which provides emergency shelter, counselling, 24/7 crisis support, and other services to women and their children who are experiencing abuse and violence.
“Our focus is on those under 16 because we realize that is where the gap is presently,” Carnakie said.