'People need to talk about it': Ontario schools are implementing anti-sex trafficking policies

The Ministry of Education has made it mandatory for each school board in the province to develop an anti-sex trafficking protocol, effective Jan. 31.

Boards can take different approaches, but the common goal is prevention. On Tuesday, the Upper Grand District School Board approved their initial protocols.

The most recent statistics show Ontario is a human trafficking hub, with the highest number of reported incidents in the country.

In July, the Ministry of Education mandated each school board lay out an anti-sex trafficking policy by the end of January.

At Tuesday evening’s board meeting, the UGDSB approved its policy, which will include adding student workshops to their curriculum next year.

“For kids and students, it’s going to be about awareness for them, also about ways for them to get support if they need it,” Superintendent Pat Hamilton said.

Hamilton says the physical and health education curriculum currently touches on similar topics, “but nothing that targets it in the way that we are now going to.”

The new teachings “will expand on the work we do around child abuse and certainly duties to report.”

The training will become a part of the curriculum for both high school and elementary children, but the board has not yet decided what age or grade is the most appropriate to start.

“That’s the piece that we haven't landed on yet. We want to be really, really careful about that,” Hamilton said. “These are serious issues and we never know who’s been affected.”

A combination of 14 community partners such as Police, Child and Youth Counsellors, and Victim Services Wellington will have input.

Victim Services Wellington Executive Director Elizabeth Kent is happy to see the education become mandatory.

“People need to talk about it. We cannot stress that enough,” Kent said.

Kent added that it can be an awkward conversation but it is an important one, “people really need to have that conversation with their kids.”

Victim Services Wellington says it's had nearly 20 cases this past year and more than 30 cases the year before.

“That’s just our agency,” Kent said, emphasizing that there are many services available to those in need across the county. “I have a lot of people that will say to me, when I am talking to human trafficking, 'oh where are these girls from?' They're from Guelph. They’re from Sudbury. They’re from North Bay. They’re from Chatham. It’s not just big cities that it happens in.”

Kent says traffickers most often spark up a conversation with their victim online and build a relationship of trust with them first. Signs of how to spot and avoid traffickers will be a part of the new workshops.

The school board plans to make educational resources available to parents and guardians as well.

“If you suspect your child is being trafficked, reached out,” Kent added.

Children are not only at risk of being victims, school-aged children can be traffickers of their peers as well.

According to Statistics Canada, six per cent of accused persons from 2009 to 2018 were aged 12 to 17.

Upper Grand staff and teachers will begin their new mandatory training this summer and fall as well.

More resources can be found here.