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Kelly Franklin of Farmtown Canada wants to educate the public about human trafficking so they can be aware of the signs

By Heather Rivers, Woodstock Sentinel-Review

Kelly Franklin, of Farmtown Canada, was in Tillsonburg Friday to educate local citizens about human trafficking. (HEATHER RIVERS/SENTINEL-REVIEW)

Kelly Franklin, of Farmtown Canada, was in Tillsonburg Friday to educate local citizens about human trafficking. (HEATHER RIVERS/SENTINEL-REVIEW)

It’s real and it’s happening here.

Right now there are four alerts in the Southwest region for girls and women who are missing and who authorities fear are being trafficked.

One of the reasons for that, according to Kelly Franklin, founder of Farmtown Canada in Alymer, is the region lies on a main highway corridor between Detroit and Toronto.

“Human traffickers love smaller communities because the girls are more innocent, compliant and more ashamed,” Franklin said.

Farmtown Canada is a charitable organization that provides programs to disadvantaged girls, teen girls and young women through their horses that heal program.

Franklin brought the issue of human trafficking, a $7 billion dollar a year business, to Tillsonburg Friday evening with a screening of the human trafficking documentary Canada’s Secret Shame by MP Joy Smith at Avondale United Church.

“We bring awareness and education of what is happening the community,” Franklin said. “There are little things you can do to put eyes on the community and make it a safer place.”

Franklin said the 66 per cent of girls recruited and brought into the sex trade are between the ages of 12 and 17, with a median age of 13.

Franklin said many in the community think of prostitution as girls standing on the streets offering sexual services.

“They don’t understand it’s all electronic now,” she said.

Helping girls and young women who have trafficked can be difficult due to the effect of post traumatic stress and stressed they need specific trauma-informed assistance.

“They don’t trust anybody,” she said. “And there is a huge gap in services for girls that have been trafficked.”

In a typical scenario, she said, the victim would be befriended by a man who calls himself her boyfriend.

At first they wine and dine her but eventually they may take a compromising photo of the girl and use that to threaten or forcibly confine her.

The girls are often taken from city-to-city and forced to provide sexual services. Some of the girls are made to recruit new girls for the trade.

Franklin said signs of the human trafficking include young girls with a much older man, appear frightened or anxious, unexplained bruises or injuries, a lack of identification, a girl in possession of several cell phones or a girl who says she working all the time but has no money.

Franklin said Farmtown is working with organizations such as local anti-trafficking police units, the Ontario Police College, as well victim services to educate and inform as many people as possible about human trafficking.

“There’s a huge stigma around this — you don’t hear about it often,” she said. “We’re spreading as much information as we can to provide a wide-spread safety net.”

HRivers@postmedia.com