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  • Writer's pictureESSEX FREE PRESS

OPP’s “At Risk Youth Symposium” introduces Project GAP, discusses human trafficking

by Sylene Argent

Last Thursday, the Essex County OPP hosted the “At Risk Youth Symposium” at the Ciociaro Club in support of its most recent community safety initiative, Project GAP (Guide, Advocate, and Prevent) and to share information about human trafficking.

  Representatives of over 43 community partners of the Essex County OPP listened intently as they learned about vulnerable youth from various policing organizations.

  Essex County OPP Staff Sergeant Brad Sakalo said Project GAP is an Essex County OPP initiative that was created to help mitigate youth from leading at-risk lifestyles. This project will provide outreach and education programs to at-risk youth, who are struggling.

  In Essex County, Sakalo said, OPP personnel were noticing there had been a great deal of occurrences of youth behaving poorly or making less-than-desirable decisions, which was creating negative interactions with the at-risk youth and members of the OPP because of that behaviour.

  Through creating Project GAP, options were explored at how to mitigate youth from leading at-risk lifestyles. The OPP, through the Project GAP program, then reached out to those 43 community partners that support youth in some way to come up with new strategies and discover how their services could be of use to those at-risk youth in preventing them from experiencing addictions or homelessness in the future. The event was also a way to share the signs that someone may be victim to human trafficking.

  Sakalo said the OPP wants the right services to be offered to at-risk youth to prevent them from getting arrested or charged in the future.

  Through the creation of Project GAP, Sakalo said, it was noticed that at-risk youth have similar backgrounds to those who are targets to human trafficking, like having feelings for the need to belong, be loved and secure, and lack of faith in the justice system.

  Thursday’s presentation was hosted as a public awareness and outreach event, which continued the conversation about the program and human trafficking.   

  A number of guest speakers were able to speak at the event, which included representatives from the Michigan State Police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Safe Streets Task Force, and human trafficking victims and survivors.

  MP Tracey Ramsey attended the event, and was blown away with the content provided and with what the special guest speakers had to say.

Ramsey was impressed to see around 250 people pack the hall for the event, and was pleased that many industry professionals were able to take away the information provided and apply it to possible situations they may come into contact with, while assisting certain youths, who may be at risk.

  “I was encouraged by the amount of people there,” Ramsey said, adding those individuals will now have a new lens to look through when addressing someone who may be in need of help.

Even at the federal level, Ramsey said, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to human trafficking. The event was a great opportunity for many to learn what human trafficking looks like domestically, she said, adding this is a subject that certainly should be talked about in Ottawa.

  “It was powerful to listen to the survivors of human trafficking [who spoke at the event], Ramsey said, noting the audience was intently focused on the speakers. Their stories, she added, sounded like they could have been from any teen from any municipality. “It was very eye-opening.”

  One thing that stood out to Ramsey was that there are those who identify as human traffickers who post videos or sell books on the industry online. It is concerning to her there really is nothing stopping the sharing of that information.

  During the event, Ramsey thanked the OPP for putting the event together. “Our OPP Essex Detachment is incredible. [Staff members] are always going above and beyond and educating the public on what is happening,” she said.

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