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Committee puts focus on sexual exploitation

By: Dave Baxter

Posted: 04/8/2018 8:45 AM

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Alexandra Ross and Stephanie Klassen are two of the members who will make up the newly formed South East Coalition Against Trafficking.

DAVE BAXTER | THE CARILLON Enlarge Image

Alexandra Ross and Stephanie Klassen are two of the members who will make up the newly formed South East Coalition Against Trafficking.

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A new committee has been formed in southeastern Manitoba that will look to bring awareness to, and work to fight back against issues of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Stephanie Klassen is one of the three current members who will sit on the board of the newly-formed South East Coalition Against Trafficking (SECAT)

Klassen said although sexual exploitation is not as "visible" in the southeastern part of Manitoba as it is in big cities like Winnipeg, that doesn’t mean exploitation isn’t happening in the area.

"Steinbach doesn’t have that street-level exploitation, but we know any community that has access to the internet is susceptible to online exploitation, which is something that is currently exploding," Klassen said.

"There is no area that’s immune from it, and it’s not just online, there is person to-person exploitation that is also happening here.

"There may not be a street where you go and see that sort of thing, but we know that it does happen."

Klassen said the new committee will be one of many already formed regional teams that have been formed in Manitoba under Tracia's Trust, a provincial strategy to address sexual exploitation.

Tracia's Trust which first started in 2008 sees regional teams working on the issues of exploitation in their communities, but Steinbach and the Southeast have not been a part of this initiative until now.

Klassen added they are still looking for more members to join the SECAT team.

According to Klassen one of the main goals of SECAT will be to create awareness about sexual exploitation and trafficking so that others can come forward if they feel they are seeing something or dealing with something that may be exploitation.

"Right now there is a lack of awareness especially in the rural areas because we don’t always see it, and one of the big jobs of these regional teams is to bring public awareness," Klassen said.

She said there may be things that people see in their communities and don’t even realize what they are witnessing is exploitation.

"People may see that an adult is having a relationship with a teenager and nobody is thinking that is exploitation, but legally it is," Klassen said.

She added people in desperate situations can often be exploited.

"Sometimes it’s people asking for a sexual favour in exchange for a ride, or shelter or food," Klassen said. "This can happen in homes, at parties and with people that have authority over others."

Klassen said the group also wants to let people know where they can go and what they can do if they want to come forward with issues or stories of sexual exploitation.

"There are layers of shame and humiliation, and there is a tendency to sweep these things under the rug," Klassen said. "There needs to be a group that shines a light on something that is so important to shine a light on, but is hard to shine a light on."

"We want to give people things they can look out for, and let people know where they can go and who they can reach out to for help."

Klassen also wants to make sure SECAT works to fight against the sexual exploitation of children.

"We know that it can happen in schools, in churches or in organized sports," she said. "These are places where kids can be vulnerable, and that is what we need to address."

With SECAT in their very early stages, Klassen said one of their first tasks will be to recruit more interested community members that would like to join their team.

Anyone looking for more information on SECAT or for info about joining the team can contact Stephanie Klassen at klassen.steph@gmail.com.

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