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Unwrapping the truth about human trafficking

Published on

Cathy Dobson

What’s better than a beautifully wrapped present that comes with the promise of something wonderful?

And what could be worse than opening that gift only to find it contains something horrifying?

That’s the gist of a giant steel box that will soon be on exhibit near the fountain at city hall.

It will be so large people can enter through a door to discover why the contents are so terrible.

“On the outside, the box is beautifully decorated, just like the promises that human traffickers use to seduce their victims,” explains Michelle Batty, of the Sarnia-Lambton Committee Against the Trafficking of Women and Children.

“But what really happens is depicted inside.”

Few believe human trafficking occurs in Sarnia. In fact, most people associate it with international crime.

But every year, a significant number of victims take refuge at the Sarnia Police station, Women’s Interval Home or Sarnia Lambton Sexual Assault Survivors’ Centre, Batty said.

“We constantly hear people say it doesn’t happen here,” she said. “But Sarnia is on the Highway 402 and 401 corridor and women who are being exploited will land here.”

They may be from poorer areas where promises of legitimate work and a better life lured them away.

“And then they find out they are involved in illegal activities like the sex trade or working with little or no pay,” said Batty.

Sometimes high school students in Sarnia are lured by traffickers who promise glamourous modelling careers in the big city, only to subject them to labour or sexual exploitation.

There are no official numbers, said Batty, but many result in assault charges because they are easier to prosecute.

Her volunteer-based committee formed 10 years ago to educate the Sarnia community.

To mark the 10th anniversary, committee members are bringing The Gift Box for display at city hall from June 3 to June 7.

The exhibit, funded by the Faith Alliance to End Human Trafficking, was built by students at the Ontario College of Art and Design in Toronto, and has been on tour since last summer.

The box emphasizes things are not always what they seem and helps the community understand human trafficking does happen here, said Batty.

An opening ceremony is planned at city hall at 1 p.m. June 3 on the eve of downtown’s ArtWalk.

The Gift Box project can be seen on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q683Tu73ouk.

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