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Raising awareness about human trafficking in our communities to protect young people

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York Regional Police and Crime Stoppers are bringing attention to the issue of human trafficking with a Canada-wide initiative to protect young people.

"The basic definition of human trafficking, really, is exploiting a person that can be through force, it can be through deception, and it's usually for financial gain. We often see sex trafficking where the victim was forced or coerced to provide a sexual service," explains York Regional Police Det. Sgt. Gary McBride.

Victims of human trafficking can be of any age or sex, and it can occur in any sized community, but police say it often involves young and vulnerable individuals.

McBride notes officers come across many people being exploited or on the verge of being exploited and says these victims are often someone's child or sibling or someone who has come to Canada in search of a better life.

"We really need parents to start speaking about it, speaking to, you know, your boys, your girls, your children in general, because both of them can be trafficked," McBride adds.

Police encourage the public to keep an eye out for potential signs of human trafficking, including:

being controlled by others, perhaps escorted all the time

providing scripted or rehearsed answers to casual questions

unfamiliar with the neighbourhood they live or work in

being controlled and watched by others or having someone speak for them in public

Bonnie Harkness, chief operating officer with 360Kids, a housing program for survivors of human trafficking, notes they serve about 12 young people in two housing programs.

"And then we have scattered sites in the community where we serve. Right now, we're serving eight young people that are at risk of being trafficked or have been trafficked in the past," Harkness says.

Police encourage those who know someone being affected or those affected by human trafficking to reach out for help.

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