Bill McElroy says yes, it can happen to your family.
The chair for the Capital Region Action Team for Sexually Exploited Youth said the issue of human trafficking is not just a third world or big city problem. It is happening all over Canada, even in communities on the South Island, he said – we just might not be seeing it.
“As things progress, the problems get more serious because of the use of the Internet,” the Langford resident said.
“Anybody and any family is vulnerable.”
Human trafficking is the second-largest income-earner for organized crime after the sale of drugs, McElroy said. Even in Greater Victoria, he added, many police departments have two to three files on children in the sex trades or gangs using boys and girls for trafficking.
The victims come from various socio-economic backgrounds. McElroy, who has worked with sexually exploited children for more than 15 years, knows of one girl whose parents were a lawyer and an accountant. Many are of First Nations descent, some of whom are sent to other cities where they don’t have the same family connections. Many are recruited through chat sites and social media.
“People can friend anyone on Facebook and there are actually handbooks for child predators on how to meet up with kids on the Internet,” McElroy said. “Some invite (youth) to send a naked photo to them as a joke and kids do it and they use it as blackmail.”
In order to help raise awareness on the issue, a free Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation Symposium has been organized for tomorrow (Sept. 24) to educate and inform the public.
Information will be presented on how to help prevent these types of issues in your family, and who to call if you want to help yourself or someone you know that may need help.
McElroy quotes national statistics that put the average age of children recruited into the “industry” at 13 or 14.
An FBI estimate in the U.S. states that the average lifespan for girls once they have fallen into the sex trade or human trafficking is approximately seven years.
“Teenagers are not the most popular of our population, people like cute kids and may respect the seniors, but pierced, swearing, smoking teenagers, (many) don’t like them,” he said. “But someone has to stick up for them, because they are good people and might just be in a different stage of their life.”
Speakers lined up for the event represent the Pacific Centre Family Services Association, Children of the Street Society, Victoria Boys and Girls Club and many others.
The free symposium takes place at the Metropolitan United Church hall, 932 Balmoral Rd. in Victoria, between 9:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Thursday.