A province-wide campaign along the 400 series highways on Tuesday focused on raising awareness of the issue of human trafficking.

Anti-human trafficking advocates gathered at OnRoute highway rest stops, including the location in Tilbury, as part of the #KnowHumanTrafficking campaign.

The initiative was sparked by a conversation Kelly Franklin had with a trafficking survivor.

“She was really perturbed by the objectified advertising that was put out that every girl was trafficked had dirty clothes, stringy hair,” said Franklin, an anti-trafficking advocate heading the group Courage for Freedom based in Aylmer.

Police services and political leaders joined advocates at the highway service stops beginning at 9:20 a.m. to highlight how the 400 series highway is a prime conduit for trafficking.

Across Canada, 60 per cent of all trafficking cases start in Ontario.

An old practice of traffickers is to get woman and girls out of their home community and away from loved ones or support systems, making highways a hot spot according to Inspector Dean Croker, the Middlesex OPP Commander.

“The 400 series highway, it is a conduit from every major city and access to rural Ontario,” said Croker. “So, with the OPP and our human trafficking unit dedicated to work with our municipal partners and our communities, our goal is to identify these routes and take appropriate actions.”

Chantel Butterfield works with the Sarnia Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre.

She says agencies like hers are working to inform as many young people as possible about how, mainly young women, are targeted.

“We really try to do a good job of talking about all the different kinds of luring and grooming techniques that traffickers use and identify that, you know — trust your guts,” said Butterfield.

Franklin says the ads that started airing at OnRoute locations on July 1 will now be spread online using the hashtag #ProjectMapleLeaf to help generate greater awareness.

“If we create a bigger community safety net, just lifting up our heads, looking around, knowing what we’re seeing and having the courage to make the call, what’s going to happen is things are going to change,” said Franklin.

And Franklin hopes to see the message spread worldwide.