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The Ontario government unveiled two new programs on Monday as part of a provincewide crackdown on sex trafficking.

Provincial cabinet members said at a news conference that the initiatives will address the growing rate of the sex trade industry and teach children how to recognize the signs if they are ever targeted by a trafficker.

Backed by the province’s $307-million anti-human trafficking plan, the Ford government said they are launching both the “Speak Out: Stop Sex Trafficking” and “The Trap” programs.

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Speak Out: Stop Sex Trafficking is designed by and for Indigenous people that will provide information about sexual exploitation and human trafficking, as well as how to spot it.

“It’s a source of information about human trafficking and sexual exploitation for Indigenous youth, as well as leaders and caregivers in Indigenous communities to help them raise awareness and provide support,” said Jill Dunlop, associate minister of children and women’s issues.

A second initiative, called The Trap, is designed to raise awareness about sex trafficking among middle-school and high-school-aged children and teens.

The online tool will help youth experience what it’s like to be targeted and recruited by a sex trafficker via the internet and what to do if the scenario ever comes to fruition. The children will be accompanied by an adult or guardian when interacting with The Trap.

“This tool offers a new innovative way to show youth how traffickers operate so we can stop this crime before it starts,” Ms. Dunlop said.

More than two-thirds of police-reported human trafficking violations in Canada between 2009 and 2018 happened in Ontario, according to a report from Statistics Canada. That report also said that more than 70 per cent of known human trafficking victims identified by police were under the age of 25. In addition, 28 per cent were under 18.

Sergeant Kerry Schmidt of the Ontario Provincial Police said police are working day in and day out to crack down on sex trafficking rings that they say can target anyone, especially marginalized youth.

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“In some cases, individuals may not even know they are being trafficked,” he said. “We have dedicated individuals who are out there working in this environment trying to help and bring people out of that trade and help them understand that they are being manipulated and profited off of.”

Sgt. Schmidt said having an open dialogue and communication with people you trust can go a long way in helping individuals, notably young children, understand right from wrong and seek help.

Julie Neubauer, manager for anti-human-trafficking services at Covenant House Toronto, agreed.

“Understanding what sex trafficking is and being able to identify the signs of luring, grooming and exploitation is vital to help prevent trafficking,” Ms. Neubauer said. “Sex trafficking is a crime taking place in Canada right now, the truth is that it’s happening in our communities, to our children and often right in front of us.”

According to Ms. Neubauer, sex trafficking does not discriminate and can happen to anyone regardless of age, culture, income, gender or where you live. She also said sex trafficking is a large, complex issue that requires a long-term strategy and not “Band-Aid solutions.”

“The number of victims affected continues to grow, and the traffickers continue to employ new technologies in order to avoid detection,” Ms. Neubauer said. “Combatting this issue requires collaboration across industries, sectors and levels of government and continued funding to ensure we don’t take our foot off the gas.”

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