A community action forum was held in Calgary on Thursday to help agencies that work with people affected by human trafficking to improve services and prevention measures.

The Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta (ACT) helps victims of human trafficking and also supports programs to assist members of the community and organizations with education and training.

On Thursday, ACT held a Community Action Forum at Woods Homes and the goal was to improve services, best practices and prevention measures for victims of human trafficking.

“We’re coming together to talk about this issue collaboratively and to look at a collaborative solution in preventing this crime and best ways to support victims moving forward,” said Lisa Tukkimaki, Program Manager for the Calgary Community Action Plan on Human Trafficking.

About 60 stakeholders from government, law enforcement and non-profit, youth and indigenous agencies attended the event.

“The more that we get out there and the more that we’re educating the public and our service providers on human trafficking and the realities in Calgary, because they are different than what’s happening internationally, the more referrals that we’re getting. So I can’t say it’s going up or down, it’s a really elusive crime and we know that victims are transient and they are hidden as they are seen as people’s property. Not to mention that most victims don’t identify as being a victim of human trafficking. So we do know that there is an increase because of the information that we get out there and that’s a good thing because we want to reach out to people and find them,” said Tukkimaki.

According to research, the most vulnerable people are those who live in poverty and people with substance abuse and mental health issues. Indigenous women and girls and immigrants are also among those at high risk of being targeted by human traffickers.

“The misconception that a lot of people have is that the majority of traffic victims are coming from outside of Canada and that’s not necessarily true with what we’re seeing. A lot of the victim’s we’re seeing are actually resident born so a classic scenario would be, a young woman who’s being groomed by an older boyfriend and so she’s Canadian born. And that grooming can look like buying lots of gifts, lots of flattery and then eventually asking for a return in favour and then that return is a sexual favour and, sort of, we see that pimping that then moves into human trafficking,” said Tukkimaki. “We’re servicing both male and female victims of human trafficking, it’s not just women.”

The coalition's data shows that 58 percent of human trafficking victims in Calgary are women and of those, 47 percent are trafficked for labour and 42 percent for sex.

ACT says it plans to launch new initiatives in 2019, which will be based on the findings from Thursday’s  forum.

For more information on The Action Coalition on Human Trafficking Alberta, click HERE.