BY ALEX GREGORY
A Caledon councillor is sounding the alarm on the abnormally-high rate of sex trafficking cases in the region. Days after a new report showed that Peel Region faces a disproportionatelyhigh rate of trafficking cases in the GTA, Ward 2 Regional Councillor Johanna Downey said in an open letter that more work needs to be done to protect young girls and women from online predators and “buyers” who lure them into sex trafficking.
“If we continue to believe, ‘not my daughter,’ or ‘these platforms are innocent,’ our naivety will continue to fuel an illicit industry that continues to exploit our children,” Downey said in an open letter this week, discussing a recent conversation she had with her 13 year-old daughter about online meeting places and its dangers from predators who take advantage of the platform. The province has the highest rate of police-reported human trafficking cases in Canada, with approximately 90 per cent of cases involving female victims, said Downey. The statistics are even worse in Peel, which has faced rates of human trafficking that are some of the highest in the province, according to a report presented to Peel Regional Council last week. The report, which was initiated by the Peel Institute of Violence Prevention and Family Services of Peel, shows that the rate of human trafficking reached as high as 1.14/100,000 persons in 2016, compared to 1/100,000 persons in the province and 0.79/100,000 persons in Toronto. For Downey, a member of the region’s Anti-Human Sex Trafficking Task Force, the discussion with her daughter highlighted the dangers of social platforms, which have replaced traditional meeting places for children and have attracted what she calls “a buyer’s market”.
“Social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and, Tik Toc are consuming our youth around the globe,” Downey said Tuesday, in a letter sent to the Toronto Sun. “They’ve become the places where kids can follow and be followed. Where they can express themselves and perhaps lead in their respective genres…. today’s kids are effectively branding themselves to the globe for popularity and it’s working.” The problem lies in the dangers of unchecked and unsolicited contact from “buyers” asking them to send lurid photographs or asking them to be their “online girlfriend”, which many young women aren’t equipped to handle.
“The risks are real,” said Downey. “We can’t possibly expect our children to understand the dangers of being reduced to a Buyer’s fetish. We need to equip our daughters with strategies.” Downey’s comments echo the presentation made at regional council last week, which show that cases of human trafficking have increased by 50 per cent between 2009 and 2016, based on statistics generated by 86 stakeholder organizations, including 34 within Peel Region. The province has also taken note of the issue, providing funding to Family Services of Peel through the Ministry of Community and Social Services in 2018 to support and respond to human trafficking victims. Downey said that parents need to talk with their daughters about the potential dangers of online platforms, and implement parental controls if needed to protect them from certain sites.
“We need to take a stand and bring (human trafficking) numbers down,” said Downey. “I can’t let my guard down. Because if I do, if I have zero parental controls, zero online security and stop educating my daughter about online interactions, I’ve helped feed a Buyers’ market, where her brand can be passed around with impunity by a predator so large and so insidious, no price for a parents’ vigilance will ever be too great.”