It can be difficult to attract a large group of volunteers at McMaster. There are so many different groups vying for students’ attention and often, there is so little guidance.
While international human trafficking is another important issue, it is critical to note the there are laws that protect immigrants from the harsh world of human trafficking in Canada.
However, there are no laws protecting Canadian citizens from this terrible act. Rather than being criminalized, people who are found to be a part of these circles merely get fined. This is an insignificant and meaningless price to pay considering people are being used as mere means to money.
The Human Trafficking Awareness Initiative originated this year. And while they do get some guidance from their funding and resource partners at Ontario Public Interest Research Group McMaster, they rely on their student volunteers to help with the groundwork.
One of the biggest obstacles this small program faces is the stigma surrounding human trafficking throughout Canada and right here in Hamilton. The co-founders of HTAI, Sukhbir Thind, a fourth-year Honours Life Science student and Letizia D’Alimonte, a fourth-year Honours Communications student, are trying to reach out not only to McMaster, but also to high school students – a task proving to be much more difficult than anticipated.
“I think they’re in denial of it,” says Thind, when discussing the challenge of reaching grade 11 and 12 students across Hamilton. People do not want to believe the streets of their city are littered with this issue, so they ignore the problem in the hopes that bliss will follow their ignorance.
This denial occurs despite the fact that, in 2011, 89 per cent of all human trafficking victims in Canada were Canadian aged 12-22. It is important that all students become aware of this cultural imperfection, and that this awareness will hopefully lead to change.
The focus of the volunteer-based HTAI is on domestic human trafficking awareness.
The founders of HTAI got the idea to start this social awareness group from “Walk With Me,-” a Hamilton-based group that helps people who are currently being trafficked.
From January to August 2013, they received 92 crisis calls from victims and police, and 126 tips/calls from the public, the large majority of which were from the Hamilton area. The purpose of this group is to spend their days picking up and aiding victims.
Although this group helps those affected by trafficking, it deals with a “lack of awareness,” explains D’Alimonte. “Everyone is too busy doing work, they are leaving no time to promote the cause.”
This is where HTAI comes in. The group intends to allow high school students to become aware of this issue, and perhaps set up HTAI juniors across Hamilton, eventually having these groups put on their own presentations to their classes and schools.
We have stereotypes about how Canada and Hamilton appear positively, but this optimistic attitude can blind us on important issues.