Moncton YWCA is beginning a new project called BRAVE YW aimed to protect youth from the threat of human trafficking.
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Ashley Macdonald is the program coordinator and said it can be difficult for some people to comprehend that human sex trafficking takes place in the Maritimes as it often goes unnoticed and can be difficult to detect.
“It is hard to wrap your head around but we know it is happening and it is happening in our communities,” she said.
A report released by The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking indicates there is “a corridor” of sex trafficking of youth happening between Halifax and Moncton, MacDonald said.
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“Often when we hear of human trafficking we have this notion that they are captured and taken away. While that can happen, that is not often what we see,” she said.
MacDonald said that much of the grooming of youth is happening online, and it is becoming more prevalent amid the pandemic.
“COVID has inevitably made us less connected or connecting online with people who might not be safe. So COVID is another vulnerability,” she said.
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The Brave YW program is aimed to prevent youth from becoming victims in the first place, MacDonald said, by educating youth and their peers about the warning signs that someone may be being exploited.
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“It is very prevention, healthy relationships and safety planning and for sure we will be working with young people who are probably already living some dangerous situations,” she said.
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The project is for girls, women and non-binary youth aged 11 to 19. Youth involved in the program will receive help with housing, mentoring and online safety training, according to MacDonald.
They’ll also learn how to identify and help a friend who is being exploited.
Maggie Mcintyre is working as a mentor for the program. She said that while many of the youth being lured in are from vulnerable home situations, it can happen to any young person.
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“You are coming from a family who works as a doctor or nurses or police officer or a professor at university, you are a target for human trafficking,” she said.
The report released on February 22 called “Human Trafficking Corridors in Canada” indicates that traffickers will often take girls from Halifax to Moncton to work in exotic dance clubs, said Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking executive director Julia Drydyk.
“They will use that as part of the luring, a grooming place to get them kind of comfortable with those initial sexual acts and them ramp them up and move them across those corridors where they may engage in the online escorts,” said Drydyk.
She said the report was based on interviews with service providers and with police investigators across Canada.
Youth involved in Brave YW will get help with access to housing, food, mentors, counselling and training in digital literacy.
The federal Department of Public Safety has already provided nearly $350,000 in funding for the Brave YW program.
MacDonald said the project will also work with schools in the region to connect with youth who may be vulnerable.
“They are seeing [recruiting] more over the past year so the need is very real and we are hearing it from everyone and we are just excited to get out there and start doing that work,” she said.
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