Walnut Grove students credited in battle to combat human trafficking

Plan launched to fight human trafficking

The federal government has created a plan to combat human trafficking and a number of young Langleyites can take some credit for putting this growing issue on the national stage.

On June 6, the Conservatives launched the National Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking, which will put $23 million over four years into creating a specialized police team dedicated to combating human trafficking, increase front-line training of police who respond to sexual exploitation of girls, especially in vulnerable communities across the country and provide more support for victims and strengthen co-ordination of domestice and international partners.

“Tara [Tang] and I have been at this for three years and I think I’ve talked to every MP I’ve ever met about this issue and it just goes to show that youth can affect change,” said Todd Hauptman, advocate against human trafficking and founder of Langley Exploitation Task Force.

He credits the good work of Walnut Grove Secondary students for sending more than 450 letters to Langley MP Mark Warawa asking Ottawa to end the sexual exploitation of young girls in Canada. Warawa tabled those letters in the House of Commons and has taken up the issue in Ottawa.

Meanwhile in the capital, two 15-year-old girls have been charged with human trafficking of other girls as young as 13 last week. The girls lured the other girls via social media and are accused of drugging them and forcing them to have sex with older men.

The group of WGSS students, headed up by Grade 11 student Anna Demian, formed a group called the Value For Life after Tang came to speak to them about the plight of young girls being trafficked.

“Tara educated us but empowered us too,” said Demian about why their group formed. She believes students need to be educated about this issue so they don’t end up being exploited themselves. Demian already has spoken to many classes at her school to let them know what the signs are, how to protect themselves from these older “boyfriends” and where to get help and find help for someone else.

Hauptman and Demian made a presentation to Langley Board of Education on June 12, asking that trustees review the idea of creating an awareness program for Grade 6 to 8 students to be educated  about the dangers of human trafficking.

As The Times reported last month, human trafficking of young girls is happening right here in Langley. The mother of a Grade 9 student told the shocking story of watching her daughter disappear into prostitution, and even seeing an ad about her daughter for sale on Craigslist.

“This is a Langley problem, not just a global problem,” Demian told the board.

In a rare move, the board passed a motion from Trustee Megan Dykeman asking for senior management to meet with the exploitation task force and prepare a report by November recommending options for an education program around human trafficking, and identifying costs and logistics.

“It’s refreshing to see youth so engaged in a hidden issue like this,” said Dykeman.

Trustee Alison McVeigh said she believes education is the key to combating this problem.

“We tend to keep our heads in the sand about some terrible things that are going on in our community,” said McVeigh.

To date, the RCMP is aware of 23 cases in Canada in which human trafficking charges were laid and the accused have been convicted of human trafficking and/or other related offences.

Of those cases, 42 accused have been convicted and 56 victims have been saved from the hands of the traffickers, says the federal government. Currently, 59 Canadian cases involving 98 people accused of human trafficking offences remain before the courts.

These cases involve 147 victims.