Local organizations launch KFL&A Human Trafficking Protocol
In an effort to coordinate a community-wide response to human trafficking, officials from organizations and agencies across the region gathered on Tuesday, Mar. 7, 2023, to launch the Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Human Trafficking protocol.
The gathering took place at City Hall in Kingston, where delegates from partners involved were invited to sign the protocol document. Those partners include Victim Services of Kingston and Frontenac, the Limestone District School Board, Kingston Police, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Ontario Provincial Police, Family and Children Services of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, Sexual Assault Centre Kingston, Addictions and Mental Health Services for KFL&A, Youth Diversion, the St. Lawrence Youth Association, and Kingston Interval House.
The protocol is a document developed by The KFL&A Anti-Human Trafficking Working Group, which is comprised of local agencies and services who saw a need for a community-wide protocol to ensure best practices when supporting victims of human trafficking.
Chris Wyman, Kingston’s Town Crier, opened the event with a proclamation, in which he pointed out that the protocol was sponsored by a grant from the United Way of KFL&A. As well, he proclaimed that it is hoped by the Working Group that their efforts will go a long way “toward combatting and dealing with a growing heinous crime that exploits the most vulnerable around the world, in Canada, and in our community,” and that “we are the fourth region in the province to adopt such a protocol.”
The agencies across the region signed the protocol to acknowledge their commitment to work collaboratively within the protocol to “understand how trafficking in persons affects the community we serve and the victims within.”
The hope, according to the Declaration is that “by earning the trust of victims and building on those foundations, we can make a difference in their lives and ‘reframe the story’ and ‘build trust with victims’ using proven strategies, which have been successful in other jurisdictions — principles such as collaboration, cooperation, inter-agency accountability, connections between primary organizations and, most importantly, placing victims first.
The victims of human trafficking “suffer from a lot of complex trauma and, in order to meet all their needs, we need to work in a group, not in silos [as single agencies], to ensure we are offering the best available supports for them,” explained Lana Saunders of Victim Services, who chaired the Working Group. Saunders also noted that while the document has taken a year to produce, they are always “welcoming of other agencies to hop on board” in joining the effort, and that more groups were involved in its production than just the above mentioned signatories.
The keynote speaker at the event was Alexandra Stevenson, a global anti-trafficking advocate who went from being a child advocate for victims of child labour, to herself becoming a victim of human trafficking in her teens and early twenties. More than a decade later, she has come full circle and is once again advocating for those who are in need of help.
She spoke to the assembly over teleconference from British Columbia, pointing out that a lack of understanding about human trafficking and what it is can lead to victims “falling through the cracks.”
“My story is not uncommon,” Stevenson relayed, “in fact, it is shockingly common.”
A victim of sexual abuse by a man she knew, Stevenson’s trauma led her down a path of drugs and victimization at the hands of a trafficker. In fact, she stated, she really didn’t realize she had been a victim of human trafficking until she had fully escaped the situation, and pursued an education in criminology and victim advocacy.
According to Stevenson, one of the biggest misconceptions about human trafficking is that it involves “stranger danger,” so people don’t understand that most victims are trafficked by people they know.
“Trafficking in persons” according to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, is “the recruitment… of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation can include the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
An important point often forgotten and often misunderstood by victims like Stevenson — and even the organizations that are intended to protect victims — is that “The consent of a victim of trafficking… [is] irrelevant where any of the means [mentioned above] have been used.” And in the case of a child under the age of 18, none of the means above need to have been employed for the action to be considered “trafficking in persons,” according to the UN Protocol.
A number of delegates noted that it was a great opportunity to finally meet face-to-face and talk casually with members of other agencies whom they have only been able to “meet over Zoom” for the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.