Chantel Butterfield knows there are still misconceptions locally about human trafficking.
“We still see a lot of, ‘That doesn’t happen here,’ and ‘It wouldn’t happen to my family,’” said the project coordinator of human trafficking support and awareness at the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre.
“I think the largest barrier is that people think it’s only happening to adults…but the really vulnerable community right now is our youth. With so many homeless youth here, we have this entire population with these really intense risks.”
Butterfield is hoping for a successful turnout at Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a seminar happening at the Holiday Inn on Feb. 22. Presentations and discussions will focus on strengthening local education and supports, and finding solutions to tackle all forms of human trafficking — the recruiting, controlling, and holding of a person to exploit them.
Most cases involve the sexual exploitation of women and girls.
“It’s absolutely geared towards any member of the community, and we would be thrilled to have as many community service agencies as possible,” Butterfield said of the first event of its kind in Sarnia and supported by a provincial grant awarded in 2017.
“We really want to work towards eliminating barriers and creating more safe spaces and resources for trafficked individuals to seek support.
“Everybody will learn and take something home from this.”
The daylong event includes s series of speakers, including a local survivor of human trafficking, a presentation on Indigenous human trafficking, and a discussion with members of Sarnia’s Male Ally Coalition on engaging men and boys.
“We can’t do this on our own, right?” said Butterfield. “We are a feminist organization and we are very aware that we have to engage men and boys in these conversations, or nothing is going to change.”
Butterfield also pointed to a presentation by Kelsey Adams of Anova, London, where research tools have been developed to help community partners identify trafficking survivors. She’ll also touch on the importance of challenging biases and withholding judgment when working with trafficked individuals.
“Those clients really feel those judgments when you’re providing service and care for them…we want to open peoples’ perspectives into awareness and acceptance.”
Locally, Butterfield has a caseload of about 10 trafficking survivors, and says as many as 20 survivors are accessing services through the centre at any given time.
“At the Women’s Interval Home, just in the past couple of months, we’ve had probably five women identify as being exploited to some extent.”
Victims of trafficking have complex needs, Butterfield explained, noting their peak time for trauma and struggling is in the evening, because that’s when they were trafficked.
“They really do require someone to check in on them on a daily basis — a text, phone call, or a ride somewhere,” she said. “So it’s really difficult to provide that service when there’s only one or two community partners who have 24-hour care.”
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Human Trafficking Awareness Day: A Community in Action
WHEN: Friday, Feb. 22, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
WHERE: Holiday Inn
DETAILS: Tickets available through Eventbright, Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre. Lunch included.