This is part two of a three-part series on human trafficking in Durham. 

Written by: Shana Fillatrau and Shanelle Somers

Human trafficking is an issue in the Durham Region, but there are organizations out there that are trying to help.

Whether it’s helping girls become less vulnerable, spreading awareness or providing survivors with a safe place to sleep, these organizations, more specifically, these people are spending their time doing what they can to help present and future victims.

Cathy Tollefson is the executive director of Global Family Canada. Daughter Project Canada is the anti-sexual exploitation arm of the organization.

The Daughter Project is an organization for the “prevention, intervention shelter and restoration for young Canadian girls at risk of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation.”

Global Family started in 2007 and two and half-years-ago, Global Family started to help girls in Canada. Before they raised money to send to eight different countries to help them end sexual exploitation there.

Tollefson says they realized, “it wasn’t just about raising money to send overseas, it was about addressing the issue here.”

At first, it was just about raising awareness, she says. They let the public know trafficking is an issue in Canada, then they started their prevention model.

“We believe that the greatest effort for prevention, is local people reaching the local girls of their community,” says Tollefson.

Photo by Shanelle Somers, Cathy Tollefson, Chief Executive of the Daughter Project Canada.

If local volunteers recognize the issue and want to help, Daughter Project partners with them to find solutions in their community.

“Prevention will always be the main focus of what we do because we would much rather these atrocities never happen,” says Tollefson.

Tollefson raises awareness through social media, speaking engagements and finding volunteers to create programs in their community.

Tollefson says the root issue is self-esteem, so they create girls club to promote female empowerment.  “The number one things that makes a girl vulnerable is low-value and low self-esteem,” she says.

Daughter Project provides the volunteers a curriculum which includes building character, overcoming obstacles, becoming a woman and looking to the future.

Tollefson says, “If you want to reach the girls in your community, we want to do all that we can to help you be successful at that.”

According to her, the average age a girl gets trafficked is 12 to 14. She encourages the volunteers to begin mentoring girls at the age of eight.

That is also why the Daughter Project wants to create an intervention shelter for young girls.

There are three different types of shelters: short-term emergency, long-term restorative, and transitional.

Photo arranged by Shana Fillatrau, ‘boyfrienders’ are much different from boyfriends. They walk the halls of Durham public schools looking for easy recruits.

The Daughter Project is planning to build a “first-stage, emergency shelter,” where girls who were just taken from their captor can reside. Global Family have opened 12 shelters around the world. The latest one opened in California.

In ten years, the organization hopes to have at least one shelter in every country they are involved in. That way they can have prevention, intervention and restoration in every place where they assist.

Tollefson went to the new shelter in California, and after she left, she was asked by the Global Family founders to begin looking into what a shelter would look like in Canada. So, for the last year, she has been working to open a shelter for minors.

At the moment, there isn’t a shelter that is open to helping young girls, since children 15-years-old or younger would be referred to the Children’s Aid Society and they would not be allowed to stay in a shelter. “Which sounds great, but when it’s not the kind of care designed to help young victims of this kind of trauma, it’s not really meeting the need of what they need,” she says.

Tollefson says the Ontario government is open to the idea of an intervention shelter for minors and that in Canada, according to statistics, it’s going to take seven to ten times for a girl to finally leave her exploiter.

Therefore, Tollefson believes it’s important for these girls to have trained professionals who know how to deal with the trauma that they’ve faced.

Photo arranged by Shanelle Somers, The hands of 13 and 14-year olds bringing awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the Durham Region.

A girl might have been rescued after a month and the best thing for her would be to get back to her family, though another girl might have been exploited for two years and may be addicted to drugs and alcohol.

This girl would need a long-term home. The Daughter Project would work with each girl to decide what’s best for her and what her next step should be.

“We recognize that every girl, every story will be different,” says Tollefson who explains she doesn’t know how long it will take, but The Daughter Project are planning to open the shelter in the GTA.

SafeHope Home is a long-term home helping human-trafficking victims reintegrate themselves into society.

SafeHope Home is a two-part program.

There is a day program and a residence program. The girls staying in the program are required to participate in both. Six girls in total participate in the program. These girls are aged 16 to 29.

The day program is from 10-4, and was started in May of last year. There girls learn about self-esteem, budgeting, and boundaries.

They do online learning, as well as more fun activities, like horseback riding. Volunteers are able to come in. These volunteers teach the girls activities like sewing.

There’s also a tattoo artist who “un-brands” the girls by covering up previous tattoos.

Girls are usually given tattoos of their pimp’s name or a barcode.

The tattoo is put on a visible area like the wrist or the neck.

After about nine months to a year, the girls will enter the second stage. This is when they will be trained for the workforce, learning job skills.

After the girls are finished their day program at 4 p.m., they then go to their residence. The residential aspect of Safe Hope opened in February.

A majority of the girls are on Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program.

Since they have an income of their own, they are taught to budget their money and pay for their own food.

SafeHope Home adopted the program of the SA Foundation. The SA Foundation’s executive director is a trafficking survivor.

Photo arranged by Shana Fillatrau, victims are usually “branded” by their abusers with barcode tattoos.

According to the SA Foundation website, “The SA Foundation is a global non-profit organization that provides long-term recovery and development programs for women and children who have been affected by human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Dena is the program director at SafeHope Home. She doesn’t want her last name published for the safety of the girls.

Dena gets all of the referrals. Referrals are welcome from anywhere, Dena says.

She interviews the girls several times and decide if they are suitable for the program. She also books any appointments the girls may need.

SafeHope Home also works with Catholic Family services to provide the girls trauma therapy.

Dena says it takes three to seven years for the girls to be able to reintegrate themselves into society.

Some of the girls have addictions they need to get through as well. If this is the case, the SafeHope Home works with Pinewood to get the girls the help they need.

In terms of Durham’s part in human trafficking, Dena says Durham is vulnerable to traffickers because of the highway, the many hotels between Oshawa and Pickering, as well as the proximity to Toronto.

In order to help the problem, Dena says, “be very, very aware of the signs. There are so many signs, especially people with young daughters in the 11, 12, 13-year-old age range … talk to them. Don’t pretend it’s not happening.”

Dena says some of the signs are expensive gifts, new friends they haven’t met or a new boyfriend.

“I think a young girl is susceptible to it. It doesn’t matter if you come from a two-parent household or a one-parent family home or what your income is, I don’t think that that has anything to do with it. Not from what I see and what I’ve seen,” she says.

According to Dena, most human-trafficking victims have been sexually abused before they were taken.

What you can do to help? Dena says, “Parents need to talk to their kids about this, because it’s happening and it’s a huge business.”

The common theme between both organizations – human trafficking is happening in Durham, and it needs to be talked about for any change to be made.

Parents, teachers, relatives and teenagers need to know about it in order to be protected. There is a way to prevent it and there is a way out.