Training, awareness, money needed to stem sexual exploitation: consultant
"It’s getting worse already"
The lead consultant on a newly released report on human trafficking and child exploitation among Inuit wants change in Nunavut. Now.
“Legislative tools across Canada for child exploitation are very weak,” Helen Roos told Nunatsiaq News.
“The report also says, okay, we saw this across Nunavut. But hey I could turn around tomorrow and sell my eight-year-old daughter — I could,” said Roos, chair of the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking.
Manitoba and Alberta have child-specific sexual exploitation laws, but other jurisdictions in Canada don’t. And that needs to change because “johns” in Canada are looking for “younger and younger children,” she said.
“It’s getting worse already. Most of the work that we do here, most of our victims are 15, 16, 17. We’ve had one victim that was 12. So for people to say all this isn’t happening — bullshit, it’s not,” Roos said.
The report she’s referring to — “Service and Capacity Review for Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking in Nunavut” — was completed in November 2013 and contains many disturbing stories of child exploitation or attempted abuse, many of them told by Inuit living in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood.
Roos has been chair of the Ottawa coalition for the past three years, and said she’s “pretty much heard every type of story in the book.”
Now that the stories have been made public, it’s time to act, she said — specifically regarding the six recommendations outlined in the report.
Roos stressed that the recommendations came from Nunavut stakeholders such as Government of Nunavut officials and the RCMP as well as survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
“So we were pretty much trying to be practical and prudent with the must-haves to the nice-to-haves,” Roos said.
The report recommends:
• territory-wide coordination;
• more funding, development and training;
• better protection of children and youth;
• community-based programs and services;
• program money; and
• greater public awareness.
Roos’s priority is training.
“If frontline workers aren’t trained, then they will fall through the cracks. They won’t know what types of services they need,” Roos said.
Training on what sexual exploitation and human trafficking looks like is important for police, social workers, mental health workers, shelter workers and even teachers, Roos said.
And in Roos’s opinion, territory-wide coordination, such as victim case management and strategic planning “should be done right now.”
The GN’s Department of Justice has to chair a steering committee on victim services, she said, and “basic horizontal delivery and coordination should be occurring anyway.”
Release of the report generated an onslaught of media attention, both locally and nationally, and prompted a reaction from various groups.
The RCMP’s ‘V’ Division is undertaking most of the recommendations contained in the report, spokesperson Yvonne Niego said.
“But I think even on top of that, there’s also a cultural education and a language barrier that comes into play as well,” Niego said.
Niego said RCMP members go to workshops, conferences and roundtable discussions for training, and that human trafficking is included in core training standards for cadets.
But being an RCMP member in Nunavut poses some training challenges. Most officers receive the bulk of their training in southern Canada and volunteer to serve in the North.
“Being 20 per cent of Canada spread over three time zones, we would expect higher levels of training for our members when they come north. So it’s a lot more difficult to deliver training once they are here,” Niego said.
One of the recommendations is for a “John School” — something the RCMP doesn’t do.
The recommendation says the RCMP should help deliver programming for male offenders on sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
Niego is open to that idea, but new initiatives take time.
She added that communities that suspect they have sexual exploitation or human trafficking issues should contact the RCMP for intervention.
“If a community feels that this is an issue, then of course we will be willing to work with the community,” Niego said.
Pauktuutit — the national Inuit women’s association — is also jumping on a project in light of the report.
“We hope to coordinate the development of a national strategy to prevent Inuit human trafficking in collaboration with the regions, RCMP, territorial governments and others,” said Tracy O’Hearn and Katharine Irngaut of Pauktuutit in a written response to Nunatsiaq News.
Pauktuutit also wants to do comprehensive research about human trafficking and sexual exploitation, but “that will only be possible with funding,” Pauktuutit said.
Roos said systemic change in the territory is difficult because of a “revolving door” of GN officials and workers.
“People come in, they go, they leave, positions are vacant. That’s a chronic challenge for Nunavut, and I don’t think anyone ever has the solution,” she said.
Nonetheless, Roos hopes the issue will be raised at the next sitting of the Nunavut legislative assembly.
“I think it certainly fuels community groups, and those that are in the front-lines with the validation to say there is need to work together,” Roos said.