This is part three in a four-part series on human trafficking.

Written by: Shanelle Somers and Shana Fillatrau

Durham Region has a human trafficking problem and girls ages 11 – 15 are the most vulnerable. Recognizing this as an issue is the first step but coming up with solutions is essential to stopping the problem.

Traffickers have many tactics to isolate victims from the world. Some include taking away cell phones, removing personal identification cards and stopping contact with the outside world, except for paying customers and pimps.

One solution is to teach girls how to prevent being trafficked by leading them to understand their self-worth. Local prevention programs for girls like Roots of Character, run by the Durham District School Board, do just that.

Local organizations, like Joanne’s House know they may be a point of contact for a victim fleeing from human trafficking.

“Youth need to be more aware of what we do,” says Jeni Arnold, Shelter Case Manager at Joanne’s House, an emergency homeless youth shelter in Ajax Ont.

Although Joanne’s House and Roots of Character are different and address different stages from prevention to rehabilitation, they are examples of community initiatives addressing human trafficking by offering solutions to a widespread problem.

Joanne’s House, a part of Durham Youth Housing and Support Services, provides short-term housing for youth ages 16 – 24.

Their mission, according to, “is for all youth to have a place to call home where they feel welcomed, accepted and valued and where youth are equal partners in creating a better community.”

Shelter Case Manager, Jeni Arnold, meets with teenagers one-on-one to get to the root of why they are there and what they need to move forward. “Whether it’s accessing support through the community like financial support, accessing Ontario Works (OW), connecting them with another agency for housing, looking at transitional housing, whether they need counselling, different options that way.”

Jeni Arnold, shelter case manager delivering care packages to former residents.

Arnold says, depending on the week, she typically meets with four to six youth who are residing at Joanne’s House or have been referred to the shelter.

Arnold says even though Joanne’s House is not specifically geared toward human trafficking, there have been some cases of youth escaping human trafficking and the organization has helped create a safe place for them.

Joanne’s House support staff all have knowledge in crisis intervention, de-escalation and emotional support. Arnold says, “We make them comfortable and show them this is what we are passionate about.”

Joanne’s House sees around 328 youth per year and the  2017 average stay was ten and a half days. But that is increasing.

As some youth do not have family to return home to and are at the age when they are no long involved in the foster care system, they need to find a place to live. Unfortunately, some of these youth go to Joanne’s House in search of shelter because of this.

Arnold says, “Just from personal experience it’s the housing market. It is very difficult to house our youth based on affordability. They’re coming in and they are on Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works (OW) and it gives them a small amount of money to work with. So a lot of them are looking at room rentals that have now increased at a budget of about $500.00 where room rentals are starting at $600.00 and up.”

She also says for the majority of youth the goal is to see them return home but sometimes parental conflict is in the way or the youth may be experiencing other circumstances like for some fleeing from human traffickers.

For situations like this, Joanne’s House has a transitional living option called Jacky’s Place.

It is a living space for youth who have successfully completed a stay at Joanne’s House and are ready to transition into a semi independent living space. Arnold says, “Right now we have four living there.”

Arnold says every person is different and they strive to help youth resolve their conflicts and heal from things they have experienced in their lives. They do this through crisis intervention and weekly small group discussions.

This can be a vital for youth aged victims of human trafficking looking to work through their traumatic experiences.

Joanne’s house also offers sessions to build life skills and through their program called Joanne’s Connect where youth in the shelter and youth outside the shelter can visit the Ajax library to hear about community services available to them and how they can access them.

“They [the youth] all have different stories, some of them are fleeing abuse, some of them parental conflict, all different things,” says Arnold.

She says the reality many youth face once on their own is not only dealing with the basic struggles of being a teenager but they also are doing adult things like managing living expenses.

Joanne’s House has also scheduled opportunities for youth to engage in art therapy, budgeting, yoga, CPR and first aid.

“We try to work really closely with other agencies, so we can connect them to have the positive support system they need,” says Arnold. Having a support system for survivors of human trafficking is key.

Like SafeHope Home, the short term home runs as a family unit with up to 13 youth in the communal living space.

Youth are able to stay for 30 days and during that time they engage in household chores of their choice, learn life skills like budgeting, attend programming and go to school.

Joanne’s House is equipped with a Durham District School Board teacher and a child/youth worker who run their own school program called GROVE within the shelter so youth can still complete their high school credits, if needed.

This school program is available for youth under 21-years old who reside at the shelter.

The shelter also provides three meals a day, snacks, showers, clothing, hygiene products and a food bank. Current youth at Joanne’s House and former youth who have transitioned out of the shelter can access all these services.

“We get lots of community support, lots of people dropping off home cooked meals, lots of great stuff,” says Arnold.

Although this is not the traditional human trafficking resource, Arnold says they have had a few females at Joanne’s House who have disclosed they are victims/survivors of human trafficking.

“We try to connect them to the appropriate resources that are available if they are open to discussing it we try to make sure they are safe,” says Arnold.

The biggest concern for Joanne’s House is safety because the location is not a secure unlisted shelter.

Arnold says, “If that person [human trafficker] ‘Googled’ us and knew that they [the victim/survivor] were staying there, our address is going to come up which puts them at risk. So we want to make sure they are safe.”

When she heard about the intense bullying and lack of self-esteem among girls in Oshawa, Gloria Garvie asked an elementary teacher if there was a need in the public school system that no one was resolving. The teacher said she spent most of her days sorting out complex issues with girls.

“A lot of it involved social media and was happening outside of school and then being brought into the school. So she said how would you like to write a program for girls and pilot it in my school?” says Garvie, who piloted Roots of Character, a program that works to build grade 7 and 8 girls’ sense of self-worth and value, in 2010.

Roots of Character is a school and community based program that equips and empowers young women to fully embrace their immense value, true beauty, and individual strengths.

Young girls in Durham District School Board elementary schools attend the program during their lunch recess time.

Since starting eight years ago, the program has seen positive results.

Garvie says she had no idea what the program was going to look like at the outset so she sought advice from her friends and their daughters who were in high school. The feedback revolved around low self-esteem and sense of value.

“I wanted to write something that was not telling them what to do, but what they can do to build self-esteem and value,” says Garvie.

Roots first started out as a pilot program with 12 girls. After spending weeks with the girls Garvie says people in their school started to notice a change in the girls which then had a ripple effect in the school.

“The board of education got a letter from a parent that talked about how Roots had changed her daughter’s life and changed their whole family. She thought she was losing her daughter and she saw her daughter coming back to life and becoming an amazing young woman,” says Garvie.

Gloria Garvie, founder of human trafficking prevention program, Roots of Character

Roots spread to public schools across the Durham District School Board and over the past seven years some of the topics the girls have discussed include unhealthy versus healthy relationships, social media, how to remove false labels and how to help other people.

Questions during workshops include: how do you know in your friendships if it’s a healthy friendship or a bad friendship because the same thing happens then with guys?

Garvie says girls need to know how to identify and describe the cycle of abuse in order to understand if they are actually in that cycle.  Discussions can then be had about the different types of abuse: emotional, physical, psychological, sexual abuse and financial abuse.

“Maybe someone is taking your money or saying if you do this I’ll give you your money back,” says Garvie. “We did a whole unit on boundaries like healthy emotional boundaries and we did knock it up to a teen, young adult level and the girls had projects and assignments that were apart of their marks. We did thinks like dreaming big, setting goals and how to function as a world changer.”

After attending police meetings about human trafficking in the Durham Region, Garvie realized that what she was doing in the schools was in fact a prevention program against human trafficking.

“When I first heard about human trafficking when I started going to the police talks I immediately recognized that Roots was a prevention program because they say at those talks the target is a girl who doesn’t believe she is worthy or has a low sense of self-worth and self-esteem,” says Garvie.

She then molded Roots of Character into a human trafficking prevention program for young girls entering high school and for girls who are in high school as well.

“Every high school in Durham has ‘boyfrienders’ in them. So they are usually in grade 11 or 12 and they are paid to find girls and recruit them through becoming a ‘boyfriend’. They are already in the crime world in high school. Girls are also now involved in recruiting – we have to talk about that as well,” says Garvie.

A drawing by Sydney H., a Roots of Character participant.

Since including human trafficking prevention into the Roots program along with building girls’ self-worth, she has seen a tremendous change in the young girls.

“By the end of the program you can physically see the difference. You can see them holding their head up high, looking you in the eye, you hear more confidence in their voice, their shoulders are back instead of being hunched over,” says Garvie.

She says  there are cases where girls have been mistreated and it takes longer to see positive results but usually by the fifth week of Roots, she sees girls are recognizing other girls in the group who need words of encouragement spoken to them and they start speaking those words.

Roots of Character also has a summer program called Roots of Leadership. Five girls recently used their artistic abilities to make posters to inform people of human trafficking.

Garvie felt the posters should be put on the backs of the women’s bathrooms stalls in schools, theatres, malls, and fast food restaurants so she met with the Durham Regional Police Services human trafficking unit to discuss the possibility of doing this around Durham. They are in favour.

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Shanelle is a second-year journalism student at Durham College. She is passionate about writing and telling stories. She enjoys the daily news, music, travel and creating multi-media content. In her spare time she works at a local retirement residence and volunteers within the community.