Officials in Sudbury warn of human trafficking dangers
Note: Some of the details in this story may be upsetting to some readers.
For Lynda Harlos, the devastating trauma of human trafficking isn't just something on the news; it's a reality after her daughter became a victim.
“My daughter ended up being gang raped at a party that she went to, ended up getting pregnant due to that rape and became very vulnerable because most of the community and some of her family and friends didn’t believe her," said Harlos, who runs Parent with Purpose blog.
"And along came a man in her life that saw those vulnerabilities in her and decided he was going to be there and doing everything for her."
It was an experience that impacted the entire family.
“We tend to think that these kinds of things don’t happen to us, it’s not going to happen to us, and evil is out in the world and bad things are going to happen regardless of how good your family is,” she said.
Harlos said not only did it change her daughter’s life, but everyone in the family.
“Being a secondary victim of anything is tough and I don’t think we realize until we are a secondary victim how tough it is," she said. "And I can tell you one of the most humbling things for me is the day my daughter told me that I had a right to cry and be upset."
Now, Harlos is speaking out to help make sure other families don’t experience similar situations.
On Thursday, the Greater Sudbury Police Service and Sudbury and Area Victim Services will hold a Human Trafficking Parent Educational Engagement Session in the city. Harlos will be there to share her story, answer questions and offer guidance.
“We realized that there was three main things that we missed in raising her,” she said of her daughter.
“We didn’t understand what sex trafficking was, we didn’t understand how vulnerable that rape had actually caused her to be -- which made her a perfect target for a trafficker -- and we hadn’t realized or even truly understood what true consent is.”
Human trafficking is an issue worldwide, but here in the north, there is something that traffickers focus on: convincing the victim they want a romantic relationship.
“It’s a very unique issue in northern Ontario,” said Nicole St. Jean with Sudbury and Area Victim Services.
“The type of trafficking that we’re seeing where we have individuals that are grooming and luring youth through the promise of a relationship. We see a lot of what we would call boyfriend or Romeo pimps, where they’re luring these youth with the promise of love and affection.”
St. Jean said it’s extremely hard to get an accurate count on how many human trafficking cases there are in the north. She said many victims don’t even realize what is happening, but the numbers that have been collected are high.
“For us here at Sudbury and Area Victim Services, we’re seeing cases on a weekly basis,” she said. “We usually have one or two referrals and in the last year alone, we’ve had over 80 cases come through our office.”
Organizers hope the information session Thursday will be a step toward keeping children safe.
“We’re going to talk about various signs that may indicate that someone you know is being trafficked or is at risk of being trafficked,” said St. Jean.
“So red flags to look for, conversations to have. We’re also going to be explaining what human trafficking is and really breaking it down so that it is something tangible and makes sense for our community.”
She said it can be scary to talk to children about such a serious subject, and they hope to help parents find approaches that work for them.
"We're hoping that on Thursday when we have this engagement session, we’re going to empower parents in the community with the knowledge they need to be comfortable to bring that knowledge back home to their own families.”
The information session for parents and guardians is being held at the Steelworkers Hall on Brady Street between 6-8 p.m. Proof of vaccination is required, but people can also join virtually.
Those interested in attending were asked to RSVP to Julia.firstname.lastname@example.org by Oct. 15. However, St. Jean said they are still accepting more parents.