Human Trafficking Prevention Network

On February 22nd, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, a diverse group of community and business leaders, gathered in CHV’s gymnasium to learn more about the dimensions and the magnitude of human trafficking in Canada and to explore opportunities to work together to address it.

The event opened with a traditional welcome from Deborah Baker (ancestral name K’ana) of the Squamish First Nation.

The event was attended by Janet Austin, OBC, Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia and Honourary Patron and Co-Chair of the Human Trafficking Prevention Network, and the President and Country Chair of Shell Canada, Suzanne Pierce. Also attending, were representatives from all of the founding partners: Covenant House Vancouver, All Nations United, BC Lions, BC Native Women’s Association, Business Council of British Columbia, Greater Vancouver Board of Trade, KPMG, Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc., Richberry Group of Companies, Royal Bank of Canada, Telus Health, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, The Port of Vancouver, TransLink, Truckers Against Trafficking, Vancouver Police, YVR Airport, and YWCA of Metro Vancouver. Collectively, they formed the Human Trafficking Prevention Network of British Columbia.

To combat one of fastest growing crimes in Canada today, the 20 founding members committed to raise awareness of, and take action to help prevent, human trafficking, by  coming together and signing a Statement of Support. We all have a role to play to disrupt and end human trafficking.

There is an overlap between the risk factors for youth homelessness and youth at risk of trafficking and exploitation; and the goal of the Human Trafficking Prevention Network is for organizations to integrate their efforts so that there can be a much more profound impact on keeping the most vulnerable in our community safe.

In front of every chair at every table was a copy of CHV’s Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking, an anti-human trafficking toolkit developed to support CHV staff and partner organizations in serving youth at risk of, currently experiencing, or those who have survived human trafficking and/or exploitation. It was through the development of the toolkit, that CHV’s Chief Program Officer, Chelsea, first met trafficking survivor Alexandra Ford.

Chelsea met Alexandra again recently at a TEDx Surrey event where both of them presented. Alexandra was invited to share her story at the Human Trafficking Prevention Network event at CHV.

At age 11, Alexandra was already dipping her toes into the advocacy pool. She heard a story about child exploitation overseas and how someone named Craig Kielburger was making a difference. Alexandra and some friends wanted to get involved and started the very first chapter of Free the Children as it was then called, in Oakville, Ontario. Alexandra spoke before some city councils, some classrooms, she would go door to door to get signatures for petition, and she raised money for school health kits.

It was only a couple of year’s later when the uncle of Alexandra’s best friend began grooming and sexually assaulting her. Alexandra’s life spiraled downward as she left the world of advocacy and entered one of drugs and bad relationships.

Alexandra didn’t know how to ask for help, because she didn’t believe that she deserved help, but there were signs that went unnoticed: “I wasn’t asking for help by going up and screaming at people saying, ‘please help me!’ I was asking for help by my grades slowly dropping, by wearing different types of clothes, and by dumping the steady boyfriend that I had and getting into a series of more and more negative relationships.”

While working at a tanning salon, Alexandra met the local drug dealer, who began to traffic her.

Throughout her trafficking experiences, Alexandra had no idea that she was being trafficked, because “… human trafficking is that thing that happens to those people over there. I’m a girl from a middle-class, suburban family. I worked in the anti-exploitation field at 11 years old. They filmed The Santa Clause down the street from my house. I wasn’t trafficked.”

Alexandra eventually escaped from the dealer, but still did not know that she was trafficked. She ended up in a criminal court case with the dealer. “I was interviewed by law enforcement and still I had no idea that I was trafficked. I continued to believe that what I had experienced was domestic violence for sure, but the rest was a series of my own bad choices.”

After escaping, Alexandra began obtaining degrees in fields like criminology and victimology, and she also earned a Master of Science degree in psychology.

She eventually moved to Wyoming with her husband. She found someone who was working in the anti-human trafficking field and thought that with her 10 years of working in the field of domestic violence that, even though she didn’t know much about human trafficking, she could “figure it out.”

While meeting with Terry, the woman involved in anti-human trafficking, Alexandra told Terry about her experiences. “She got really quiet, and I felt her energy change. And when I stopped trauma dumping on her, she said, ‘Alexandra, what you’ve just described to me sounds like human trafficking. It sounds to me like you were trafficked.’”

“I learned for the first time in 10 years that it wasn’t my fault and that I didn’t earn what had happened to me. It wasn’t because I said yes to the first thing, it happened because of him. And so, for the first time in 10 years, I was able to take that shame, that hiding that I had been doing, and take it off and put it down. And that was a big relief. And then I found I had all this energy because shame is heavy and to carry it around with you every day takes a lot of energy.”

Alexandr and Terry went on to found Uprising, a non-profit organization focused on the prevention of trafficking. “Because while I know survivor care is critical, I know that survivor care exists because of failed or non-existent prevention. We need to get upstream of the issue. We need to be talking to youth, to people, to everyone about this so we don’t have more people who live for 10 years wondering what they did to deserve being put on stage, being sold to the owner of the strip club, being sold to friends, people you thought were friends, and not being able to share it.”

Alexandra’s story emphasizes the need to have conversations around human trafficking: “We can have these conversations, not just in Covenant House Vancouver, but at home around our dinner tables, at parties, at backyard barbecues, at country music concerts, with corporations who think, ‘what do I have to do with this?’”

“The more that we have these conversations, the clearer the exit signs become.”

Stepping Up for Survivors

We want to keep the conversation going, and we’re not alone.

An anonymous donor wants to help create a world where every woman and girl is free to live a life of dignity and opportunity. Today is the last day that all donations will be matched, up to $15,000.

Your donation will provide critical resources and support to survivors, including safe housing, trauma-informed counselling, and advocacy for policies that prevent trafficking and keep youth safe.