NORTH BAY -- After seven years of research into sex trafficking in northeastern Ontario, steps are being taken to try and curb the problem in the Nipissing region.

A new committee has been formed to support people who have been victims or involved in the sex industry.

“As a result of the research that we conducted across northeastern Ontario (into) human trafficking, one of the outputs was for a service provider knowledge network to be formed in the Nipissing region,” said Kathleen Jodouin, executive director of Victim Services of Nipissing District.

“So this table meets monthly and has a variety of professional stakeholders who work with those who may have experienced human trafficking in the Nipissing area.”

The new committee table is called the Nipissing Human Trafficking Knowledge Network and was formed earlier this year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it just recently started up again.

“There isn’t one centralized agency that specializes only in human trafficking,” said Jodouin. “There’s a lot of organizations, including victim services, that do that work to support services and victims as well as other important work in our community. But I would say that the largest gap we identified in our research across northeastern Ontario is a lack of safe, affordable and accessible housing supports for women who’ve experienced violence.”

Gaps and barriers

The original study conducted by the Northeastern Ontario Research Alliance on Human Trafficking had more than 160 participants, including services, organizations and people with lived experiences. It helped point out gaps and barriers in the region.

“Our initial focus was on people who have been human trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, but as we proceeded in our research, we started to learn that the emphasis on human trafficking is distracting from any other kinds of violence that women might experience who are involved in the sex industry,” said Rosemary Nagy, an associate professor at Nipissing University and co-director of the Northeastern Ontario Research Alliance on Human Trafficking.

Overall, five policy briefs highlighting key recommendations came out of the study.

“There are specific kinds of responses that are needed, including the use of harm reduction, non-judgemental approaches, trauma and violence informed approaches and that if we want to prevent human trafficking and other kinds of abuse, awareness campaigns are not going to be enough,” said Nagy. “We need to tackle things like decolonizing our institutions, racism, we need to decriminalize sex work law, and we need to tackle poverty.”

The committee is made up of a variety of different local organizations, with the hope that this will help provide services and supports to people who have been victimized.

“Sitting at the table to help do that wraparound piece is, of course, victim services, DNSSAB or the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board, we have representation from OPP and North Bay city police, the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre sits there, the Anishinabek Nation is also a member, as well as the health unit, the crisis centre and other community partners,” Jodouin said.

Help is available

Officials said the biggest goal is to show people they aren’t alone and whether they identify as a victim or not, supports and services are available.

“We have to be really careful when we are doing any sort of awareness campaigns that we do not put increased risks in to the lives of women,” said Jodouin. “But to really hear their stories and move with them as they do their own journey and support them from a client-centred approach.”

“We’re really committed to make sure we get some messages out there and I think our organization, as well as the other organizations around the table, are all very conscious that we need to make sure that victims and survivors are aware that there are supports out there for them and we’re willing to walk with them as they go along their journey,” she added.