By Tashia Antoine
So many Canadians are still unaware that human trafficking and modern-day slavery is happening right here in our neighborhoods and cities. This past Saturday over five-hundred (500) people took a stand to end such atrocities and bring awareness to the exploitation that thousands endure in this country and around the world via the 7th Annual “Free-Them” Conference & Freedom Walk.
The Conference associated with the 5km Walk was held at Westin Habour Castle and had a stellar line-up of guest speakers, survivors of human and sex trafficking, members of the RCMP and Toronto Police Force, politicians and civilians; all of whom were equally passionate in raising awareness and funds to help end exploitation in Canada.
The event which so far has raised over $84,000 was hosted by ET Canada reporter Sangita Patel and included an honorary ceremony commending various local advocates for their tireless efforts in helping to free victims of modern day slavery.
An touching and memorable presentation by advocate and keynote speaker Rhonelle Bruder brought the audience to their feet as she shared her story as a survivor of sex trafficking which brought insight to how often and easy vulnerable populations can be victims trafficking.
Bruder who is of Caribbean descent, is also the founder of the RISE Initiative; a grassroots project dedicated to helping spread awareness on issues facing women, youth, and those from diverse and racialized backgrounds. She has dedicated her life to assist those who are suffering and to shed light on an issue most think does not exist here in Canada or the world.
The startling statistics around the Slave Trade: there are more than 30 million people in global slavery today.; 87% of those trafficked in Canada are Canadians; the average age of entry into forced prostitution and exploitation in Canada is 13-14 years old.
The two most prevalent forms of human trafficking in Canada are forced labour and forced prostitution. Globally human trafficking is $150 billion dollar industry per year.
The “Free-Them” Freedom Walk is only a part of the world-wide movement to help victims who are in bondage either through force, fraud or coercion. The initiative, now in its 7th year was founded by Shae Invidiata who wanted to make a difference and fight for the victims who come from all walks of life and who have no voice in this growing industry. The message is quite clear – it can happen to anyone, anywhere.
Human trafficking is a horrific human rights violation. Roughly two-thirds of police-reported offences in Canada occur in Ontario; the majority of trafficking goes through the Niagara and Golden Horseshoe area.
The average age of victims recruited by traffickers are in the 12- to 14-year-old range, which is why education is considered a key tool for prevention against men, women and children being held against their will.
The “Free-Them” Freedom Initiative is still accepting donations that directly go towards helping survivors of human trafficking. Organizers are still hopeful of reaching their goal of $100,000 for Aurora House and fundraising is still open until October 15th at www.freethem.ca