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Efforts ongoing to address sex, labour trafficking ahead of national anti-human trafficking day


Tracey Whiteye is a survivor of human trafficking.

“They took us and they groomed us and they forced us into human trafficking,” Whiteye said, noting it happened when she was just 16 years old.

She was loaded with guilt and shame. Whiteye said it took her nearly 20 years to embark on her healing journey, with the support of friends and colleagues.

“I thought it was time to start taking a look at some of the underlying core issues,” Whiteye said. “And to be able to let go that guilt and shame that didn't belong to me.”

There are hundreds of people locally and thousands across Canada who, like Whiteye, are survivors of human trafficking.

“It's still happening today. There's, you know, somebody's niece, somebody's granddaughter,” said Whiteye, who is the executive director of the Can-Am Friendship Centre in Windsor where she now helps other survivors in their own healing journeys.

Even those working to support survivors say it’s tough to know if it’s happening with more frequency, but data shows up to 200 new cases are revealed locally each year.

“I don't know if there's more prevalence. I think certainly more people are coming forward,” said Shelley Gilbert, the acting executive director of Legal Assistance Windsor and member of the Windsor Essex Counter Exploitation Network.

The network provides direct services to survivors of domestic and international exploitation in areas of labour, sex trafficking, and forced marriage.

“Any industry can have people who are vulnerable for lots of different reasons, or whose intersectionalities are exploited by someone,” Gilbert noted.

The counter exploitation network helps hundreds of victims to dictate and form best practices, with a primary focus on the needs of survivors and how they can be supported. They hope by listening to survivors’ lived experiences, they can inform government and law enforcement to get ahead of the issue.

Gilbert told CTV News the network targets its outreach to vulnerable groups, including temporary foreign workers, youth experiencing homelessness, and people with addictions, recognizing it’s through this outreach where they identify most survivors.

“We've seen some really amazing growth for people and some amazing healing and have been super proud of the work that people have put in to be better, to do better,” Gilbert said.

The Windsor Essex Counter Exploitation Network is planning an online conference to coincide with national anti-human trafficking day on Feb. 22, 2024.

The conference, organized in conjunction with The Hiatus House, will feature survivors who will lead the discussion, providing anecdotes from their experience in human trafficking to inform service providers on best ways to assist other survivors.

The hope is this testimony will also give others living in silence the courage to come forward.

“We want people who this is happening to, to see how well people are doing,” said Gilbert. “And we also want service providers to recognize we can do better, and we need to do better, and we need to listen to people with lived experience in order to know what to do.”

“Once people recognize that and they get the right type of support and treatment that they need, there's no stopping them.” Top Stories

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