Are you keeping your children safe?

Education and awareness are needed to stop human trafficking in our communities.

Education and awareness are needed to stop human trafficking in our communities.

That was the message of Joy Smith, an MP from Manitoba and the founder of the Joy Smith Foundation, was at during a breakfast discussion about what her organization calls the most lucrative criminal enterprise in the country.

“It takes a nation to stop this horrible crime,” said Smith, who first became aware and involved after hearing about the experiences of her son, a police officer who worked on the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit.

The stories of abused children and adults, women and men, took their toll on the officer, and Smith said her son’s hair turned grey, “literally overnight.”

Smith began to ask more questions and felt compelled to lead the charge against what is also called modern day slavery.

“Education is the greatest weapon,” she told the crowd of about 110 people. The people who groom young children “come on as friends, and give the kids whatever they want.”

Once they gain that trust, they exploit it and force their victims into the sex trade, and other illicit activities.

People have to learn how perpetrators operate, said the MP from Kildonan-St. Paul, who was a math and science teacher prior to entering politics.

A human trafficker will seize a victim’s identification. And they won’t just keep it, Smith said, the criminal will often burn them.

And parents need to be aware of their children’s online activities.

While social media is generally a positive part of society, a high degree of human trafficking is initiated via the Internet.

“We’ve never taught kids how to protect themselves from perpetrators,” said Smith.

“Kids have to be schooled.”

This education includes tips such as never “sexting” – sending nude or suggestive photos via text – and to never assume they know someone after only meeting and conversing with them on the Internet.

Smith said “human trafficking is not something police can solve on their own,” and that the community must step up and expose the fact that this crime happens everywhere.

“There’s a lot going on in this country. The stories are next door. It’s Canada’s best-kept secret … it’s Canada’s oldest oppression.”

And while there is a high number of aboriginal people trafficked, victims span all ages, genders and locations.

“It’s any vulnerable girl or boy. The majority of people are trafficked within Canada,” she said.

During the question and answer period, one listener asked what one person could do to help.

“We have to put it on the radar screen. When the spotlight is on, [criminals] run like rats into a hole,” she said.

The Joy Smith Foundation combats the crime by donating funds it gathers to registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking.

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