Rotary Club of Moose Jaw members joined Rotary Club of Moose Jaw Wakamow members at the Salvation Army church on Sept. 18 to learn about the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery and hear from members of the Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS).
"I spoke about the Rotary Action Group Against Slavery (RAGAS) at our last meeting, and action groups like this are how things get done in Rotary," explained Jim Christie, president of the Rotary Club of Moose Jaw. "This is how the fight to end polio started, was with a Rotary Action Group."
Christie told the gathering about RAGAS.online, a Rotary website with valuable information on modern day slavery, and spoke briefly about how community members can help the fight. It starts with education, and even just with knowing that modern day slavery exists at all, he noted, before introducing constables Kalie Seidlitz and Jeremy Anderson.
Seidlitz and Anderson are the first two MJPS officers to attend training that is targeted specifically at the role of municipal police in combating human trafficking.
"Kalie and I were lucky enough to go to Warman in February, and the RCMP held human trafficking education for police officers, including going over the federal and provincial legislation," Anderson explained.
"The biggest thing to realize is that, yes, Moose Jaw is a small city, but human trafficking is active and alive here. We don't see it at the levels that larger cities do, of course, but we have seen where girls, particularly, are using their bodies to feed a drug habit or to gain lodging.
"We have what are called 'back-pages', where girls in town will post online to meet up for sexual favours, and I've yet to encounter one girl who's doing this because she wants to. They do it because they are forced to, and someone else is receiving the money they get in exchange."
Anderson and Seidlitz said that unlike many other areas of law enforcement, each case of human trafficking/modern day slavery they encounter is unique. Moreover, their focus in these cases is not prosecution and conviction — the priority is the helping the victim to escape their situation.
"The number one thing we try and do is to get the victim out of the situation, because sometimes going through a court process is not going to help them. They've been so traumatized and beat down that quite often they can't even talk about what's happened until they get into a safe space.
"Even then, it could be years before they can talk about it, if ever."
The officers clarified that human trafficking is not a new problem: This isn't a fresh surge in a new kind of crime. Rather, this is an old and persistent story of vulnerable individuals, particularly females, being coerced, pressured, blackmailed, abused, and manipulated into becoming a commodity.
Modern complications include social media and cellphones, which enable new kinds of pressure, easy exchange of material that could be used for exploitation, and the ability for abusers to track and control their victims more effectively.
"A lot of times these people don't even really know what human trafficking is, or realize they're a victim," Seidlitz noted.
"That's a big barrier that police have to deal with. We might see the signs, you know, they're vulnerable, they have addictions, low socioeconomic status, all these factors that make people susceptible, but they don't see themselves as a victim. To them, this is normal, everyday life.
"We have to build rapport and trust, so eventually they'll get to a place where they can tell us what is really happening to them. Then, it's up to us to educate them that what is happening to them is not OK.
"From there, we present resources to help them get out, and if they want to proceed with criminal charges somewhere further down the line, then we can look at that. But it isn't our ultimate goal."
Anderson explained that one scenario they've seen is that traffickers will have a party and attract teenagers with free drinks, free drugs, and/or giveaways of expensive electronics. Teens attend wanting to have a good time, and are taken advantage of.
Traffickers take the chance to obtain coercive material, and if teens accept any 'gifts', they are contacted afterwards and told they owe thousands of dollars — and must pay it back however they can.
Education, as always, is the most pragmatic path to preventing vulnerable people from being exploited in these ways.
The MJPS is scaling up its educational presentations and outreach on the subject, and for Rotary, RAGAS has developed a Community Awareness and Prevention Education (CAPE) Plan, designed to help Rotarians around the world educate their communities and join the fight.
The International Labour Organization released a report in 2022 estimating that at least 50 million people were living in modern day slavery, and the number continues to rise significantly. Roughly a quarter of those people are children under 16.
For comparison, in the 400 years of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a total of between 15 and 20 million men, women, and children were trafficked. Modern slavery is no less brutal, either.
Examples include forced marriages — particularly of children, for the purpose of labour and sexual services — and state-imposed slavery, wherein authoritarian regimes coerce labour from minorities, political dissidents, and/or prisoners in a corrupted law enforcement system.
If you are a victim of human trafficking, or if you suspect you are witnessing it, help is available:
- Moose Jaw Crime Stoppers: 1-800-222-8477
- Moose Jaw Victim Services: 306-694-7624 or 306-694-7621
- Moose Jaw Police Service: 306-694-7600 and www.mjpolice.ca/resources/CanadianVictimBillOfRights
- Moose Jaw Transition House
- Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca/get-help/
- Canada.ca Public Safety Campaign: canada.ca/en/public-safety-canada/campaigns/human-trafficking.html
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