Red flag awarenessPublished on February 22, 2020

Photo by: Mark Holleron

Wendy Gee has worked with at-risk and homeless youth for most of her career, but nothing prepared her for the moment she learned that a close family connection was a victim of human sex trafficking.

“I was devastated,” says Wendy. “My first thought was—how did I not know this was happening? And then I sobbed— my heart broke for her. I felt a lot of guilt for not protecting her, and I worried about her mental health and long-term consequences.”

Wendy was determined to do everything she could to help the young woman, and all young women like her who become entangled in the dangerous web of human trafficking. To that end, she now serves as Executive Director of A New Day, an Ottawa residential and restorative program for commercially or sexually exploited and trafficked women.

“People of all walks of life can be coerced into trafficking situations,” says Wendy. “We think affluence provides a barrier to sex trafficking or addictions or domestic violence— that if we provide good schools and lots of extra-curricular activities our kids will be immune, but that is simply not true.”

Recruiters target kids as young as 12, building their trust by purchasing expensive gifts and providing drugs and alcohol. The recruiter then introduces the sex trafficker, who tells the child that the gifts need to be paid off through sexual acts, which the trafficker often films.

“After that, he has you in the palm of his hand and the child is caught in a cycle of violence, terrified that a parent or older sibling will find out,” explains Wendy. “The child thinks they have no other choice.”

This is the cycle that Wendy is trying to stop. She and her team work to transition women out of trafficking, and offer free programs to help kids identify dangerous situations— a program they are trying to get in to local schools. “We teach kids to understand the red flags.”

Wendy also has advice for parents. “Your child needs to know that no matter where they are or what the situation, you will come get them immediately,” she explains. “Wait until you have them home, safe and sober before having a conversation about why they did this and how you can help them prevent it happening again.”

In the end, her message is simple. “We need to give kids the tools to protect themselves.” That’s something Wendy is committed to doing, one young woman at a time.

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Catherine Clark

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