While most people think of Toronto or Winnipeg as hot spots for human trafficking, Fort Frances is an ideal location for traffickers.
“We're the perfect breeding ground for human trafficking because we're three and a half hours from Thunder Bay, four hours from Winnipeg, and two hours from Duluth,” said Nakita Morrisseau, anti-human trafficking clinician at Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services (FFTAHS).
“We're on the border, we're a small quiet town, and the number one thing a trafficker doesn't want to get is caught, so it's a perfect spot for human trafficking,” She added.
To raise awareness and help prevent future instances of sexual exploitation in the area, FFTAHS hosted an Anti Human Trafficking Information Session on March 27 and a Certified Safeguards Training in Domestic Sex Traffic of Youth on March 28 at the Sunset Country Métis Hall.
“At the end of the day I think we're just happy that we can all get together as a community on a human level to raise awareness and all be a voice together for our young women and men who are victims of human trafficking,” Morrisseau said.
A key message she hopes service providers learned through the session was to lessen the stigma around victims and to just see them as “human beings who are struggling.”
In the past, Morrisseau said victims of human trafficking have had the issue treated as domestic violence instead of sexual assault, due to a lack of education.
It also has a lot of stigma around it with people thinking those who are being trafficked are doing it because they struggle with addiction when typically they're being sexually exploited.
“It's a power and control issue,” said Jessica Wilson of FFTAHS, Ontario Native Women Association human trafficking liaison.
Those who are being sexually exploited often feel trapped, defenceless, and like they have nowhere to go.
For the first information session that was held, the presenter Bobbi Hudon spoke of the need for non-judgemental harm reduction services where those who are being exploited can feel comfortable accessing for help.
The following day human trafficking survivor, Carly Kalish hosted the safeguard training and shined a light on the trafficking of youth.
She educated attendees about the grooming and recruiting process of youth who are under 18 and being exploited.
In the near future, Wilson said they hope to get in contact with the district's school boards to educate teachers, coaches, and other faculty on what the signs of exploitation are and potential red flags.
Meanwhile, the feedback from attendees following the sessions FFTAHS held has been fantastic according to Wilson.
“A lot of people said it was really eye opening, and they were very thankful for us bringing awareness to this,” she remarked.
“I think they start to realize in their own work or in their own experiences that right now there is an issue.”
Wilson said that Human trafficking has long been a problem in the district but is only now getting the recognition it deserves.
“I just want people to know is this is a problem here," she said. "A lot of people think it's a big city problem or international problem but it's happening in our backyards and we just need to become aware of it.”
“We need to have that open communication with our children and we just need to continue to talk about it because the more people talk the more aware people become,” Wilson added.
“It's not going anywhere, so we just need to come together as a community and move forward.”
Wilson and Morrisseau have been working together to address the issue of human trafficking in the district and hope through spreading information they can help others identify the warning signs.
“Right now we're focused on getting into the communities and training service providers on how to deal with victims of human trafficking,” Morrisseau explained.
“We're also doing our youth presentations, so that's kind of our big focus right now.”
Wilson said a lot of representatives from the ten First Nations in the district came out to FFTAHS's anti human trafficking sessions, which she was very happy to see.
Since hosting it she has been contacted by four different people requesting similar presentations in their communities.
And if people want to request a presentation on human trafficking they can do so by contacting Wilson at 274-2042 and expressing their interest.