Human Trafficking Awareness day is recognized in the United States today (Jan. 11), and a Langley university student aims to acknowledge the day by showing that human trafficking also happens in Langley and throughout Canada.
Brookswood’s Amy Kobelt is in her final year of a Masters of Arts counselling psychology degree at Trinity Western University, and is focusing her final thesis on local human trafficking.
“I’m interested in working with women who have gone through domestic violence, and sexual or relationship trauma,” said Kobelt, who plans to complete the thesis in December 2019.
“I’m hoping to give a platform for women who have been sexually exploited to share their experiences–not just negative–but on the healing experience they’ve had, how they got there, and to celebrate their resilience and strength.”
Kobelt plans to speak with local people who have been sex trafficked, as a way to show that sex trafficking happens in Canada, and to gather information that can help service providers and community members know how to best provide space, resources, and services for women in healing.
“Human trafficking is a big term, and can often be associated with global poverty and crime; it’s a shock to think that it might happen here in Langley and the Fraser Valley, but it does,” explained Kobelt, who has been researching the topic for more than a year.
“Girls are lured into trafficking by older guys who pretend to be their boyfriends, where they meet at the mall or at parties, who will give them drugs for free. Once they’re hooked, they are manipulated into having sex with their ‘boyfriend’s’ friends.”
When explaining sex trafficking in Canada, Kobelt refers to the movie Taken–a film about two young women who are abducted and locked up in a basement to be used as sex workers.
“The chains are less visible here in Canada. I want to give exposure to that so people can be a bit more aware.”
Kobelt was inspired to study a high level of psychology after completing her undergrad in 2015, and volunteering in Bang Kok, Thailand in 2016 as a residential counsellor for women who have experienced trauma, including sex trafficking.
“It made me more aware of the life that I was fortunate not to live,” Kobelt said of her volunteer experience.
Kobelt said the visibility of Canadian trafficking versus Thailand trafficking is very different.
“In Thailand, it’s very overt. You walk down the street and see it, it’s in your face. Here it’s hidden. People don’t know that’s what’s happening. When I came back [to Canada] I realized this is happening here, and it’s important to do something here as well.”
While in Thailand, Kobelt realized she wanted to do human trafficking work for the rest of her career.
And it’s the many women who endured unimaginable trauma that taught Kobelt her passions.
She said she will always remember one woman who was pregnant and escaping trafficking in Thailand.
“One lady came in the safe house and she had a two-year-old and was pregnant. She gave birth there, and said ‘well when I go home I don’t have any way to provide for myself other than prostitution.’ I saw her go from hopeless, to really believing that she is worthy. Seeing her learn other skills was so amazing.”
Kobelt said the most important part of being a counsellor is realizing it’s less about herself, and her “fancy education,” and more about personal connection.
“It’s so much more than being a skilled counsellor or worker. It’s about me bringing myself as a person. That’s what women and people need–to connect with me as a person.”
Kobelt is still seeking women to share their stories of healing and resilience after experiencing sex trafficking or exploitation in Canada.
Women who have exited sex trafficking for at least one year, and are 19 years old or older, are asked to contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in sharing their experience.
Identity will remain confidential.