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Fighting human trafficking in Sault Ste. Marie

Victims forced to perform sex work, can be as young as 14; wide variety of services available to help victims thanks to government funding
human trafficking stock

A number of social agencies are benefitting from Ontario government funding to rescue girls and young women from the bondage of human trafficking.

Victim Services of Algoma received $18,000 from the Attorney General’s office this past year, with another $18,000 to come in the next fiscal year beginning April 1.

Crelene Duck, Victim Services of Algoma’s victim quick response program coordinator, has been giving presentations locally to educate the public as to what human trafficking is (and what it isn’t).

“People have the misconception that it’s typically girls and women who are passed from other countries, when the reality is 90 per cent are Canadian-born and they’re trafficked within Canada.  Trafficking also doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be relocated, you can be trafficked in your own community,” Duck told SooToday.

“It’s basically someone having control over someone else and that can be through coercion or by force.  It also is really hard to identify a trafficking situation, it can look like sexual assault or domestic violence, because the person is not going to come out and say ‘I’m being trafficked.’”

Those who are spotted as trafficking victims, Duck said, are helped by agencies such as Victim Services of Algoma, Sexual Assault Care Centre, Women in Crisis and indigenous services.

Victim services across the north (the Sault, North Bay, Sudbury, Timmins and Thunder Bay) have been given funding by the province to assist people who have been human trafficking victims. 

“When it comes to our program it doesn’t have to be reported to police, it can be reported to any organization that assists victims, including health care providers,” Duck said.

The Neighbourhood Resource Centre at 138 Gore Street has been a big help, Duck said.

“Sometimes they (the victims) don’t feel they can go to the police because they think the police are just going to send them to jail or not give them the support they need…sometimes the girls are given drugs, and addiction is used as another way to control them.”

“It’s good the NRC is changing those perceptions and the girls feel they’re able to go there and it’s a safe place.”

“Girls become human trafficking victims due to poverty, low education, mental or physical disabilities, previous childhood sexual abuse, coming from unstable backgrounds and eroded family structures like foster homes, being bounced around from home to home, these all increase the risk for a girl to be trafficked,” Duck said.

Many, but not all, come from First Nation communities, Duck said. 

The average age for a girl to fall into being trafficked is 13 to 14 years old, Duck said.

They get treated to dinner and gifts (and/or drugs) by men who present themselves as ‘a boyfriend,’ then are made to feel obligated to pay for it all by performing sex work.

With that comes physical abuse from the male controller.

Those girls that come forward for help can avail themselves of a number of services.

“Basically we can cover everything from temporary accommodations, to food, transportation, counselling, its really comprehensive,” Duck said.

“We can provide safety expenses for her home like deadbolt locks on the doors, we can replace some of her government documents if the trafficker has taken her identification, we can do dental work, eyeglasses, we can do tattoo removal because sometimes the girls are branded, care for their dependents or pets, counselling or traditional indigenous healing services.”

Up to $10,000 can be secured for treatment at a recovery facility, Duck added.

Prosecutions of traffickers are difficult to achieve because those being trafficked remain scared to testify, but Duck said she is encouraged victims are being helped and are gradually getting out of their traps.


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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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