New anti-human trafficking billboard placed on Highway 17 near Nairn Centre

Photo by Helen Morley/For The Mid-North Monitor Natasha Falle spoke about the dangers of prostitution at the unveiling of the new anti-human trafficking billboard on Highway 17 near Nairn Centre. Joining her were members of the OPP, Manitoulin Northshore Victim Services, Manitoulin & Area Coalition to End Human Trafficking, survivors of sexual exploitation, and the media.

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Natasha Falle, anti-human trafficking coordinator stood in front of the anti-human trafficking billboard on Highway 17. At the unveiling of the new highway billboard, she spoke about the dangers of human sex trafficking and the steps that have been put into place to end it.

Also present were the media, OPP officers, members of the Manitoulin & Area Coalition to End Human Trafficking, sex trafficking survivors, as well as concerned members of the public.

Falle is a sex trafficking survivor and the co-founder and managing director of Sex Trade 101. She co-founded this organization, made up of survivors of sex trafficking, to help raise public awareness about the sex trafficking industry.

Falle was forcibly prostituted from the age of 15 to 27. She knows first-hand the dangers inherent in the sex trade. Throughout those years she suffered broken ribs, broken teeth, rape, cigarette burns and drug addiction. Even though she ended up married to her pimp, he forced her to keep working for him. With help from her mother she managed to get out of prostitution, went through drug rehabilitation, finished high school and obtained a diploma in wife assault and child advocacy from George Brown College.

Since 2001, Falle has counselled women in prostitution, helping them exit the sex industry. Part of what she does also involves offering education and training for the police, working hand in hand with the Toronto Police Services sex crimes unit.

She now has a new hat to wear as Manitoulin Northshore Victim Services, Anti-Human Trafficking Coordinator. While she has only held this position for the last six months, Falle says she has been working on and off with MNVS for the last two years.

The billboard, which is situated on the westbound shoulder of Hwy. 17, approximately 10 kilometres west of Nairn Centre announces in big bold letters, “Under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36), Buying Sex is a Crime.”

It also lists two phone numbers that a sexually exploited person can call.

Falle says she testified for that bill, which passed into law on Nov. 6, 2014. Bill C-36 treats prostitution, “as a form of sexual exploitation that disproportionately impacts on women and girls.”

It aims to protect women who sell their own sexual services, protect communities, especially children, from the harms caused by prostitution, and reduce the demand. It also encourages those in the sex trade to report incidents of violence and offers help to those individuals who want to leave prostitution. It is estimated that more than 97% of those involved in the sex industry want to get out of it.

Prior to this bill, most of the punishment fell on the women involved in the sex trade, but now those purchasing a sexual service, or even making the attempt, are subject to criminal prosecution. According to the Department of Justice, Bill C-36, “makes prostitution illegal so every time a prostitution transaction takes place, an offence is committed by the purchaser.” It also criminalizes the advertising of the sale of sexual services for the first time in Canadian criminal law.

Falle would like to see decriminalizing for the people selling sex and the focus placed instead on criminalizing the johns and the pimps. The demand for the service must be taken away.

She also says, “We want the victims and survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking to know they are not alone, and that there is help available.”

She points out that the average age of victims of human sex trafficking is only 14. They are still children.

“They weren’t given a choice.”

She also has news for those who think it is an activity that happens somewhere else and doesn’t affect this area.

“It’s happening right here. Right now there are young girls being propositioned by buyers of sex on social media, at school, in a mall, movie theatre, walking down the street.”

These are vulnerable girls who might be hungry, need money for school supplies or college tuition, or might simply need a ride.

Falle explained, “The objective of our ‘Buying Sex is a Crime’ campaign is to protect our most vulnerable from those who seek to exploit them, by targeting the male demand (the johns), because we know that without the demand there would be no supply.”

To that end, she says there is zero tolerance on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore for pimps, traffickers and men who pay for sex. Those who are vulnerable need to be protected from johns financially and sexually coercing them for their own self-gratification.

She also listed indicators that might point to someone being a victim of sex trafficking. These factors are varied, including skipping school; unexplained sources of money or material items; an older boyfriend or a new crowd of friends; a disconnect from community supports; a dramatic or sudden change in behaviour; someone else taking care of them; engaging in commercial sex acts; forced to perform sex acts; tattoos or branding that raises concerns; visible signs of physical abuse or malnourishment; bruises; lack of medical care; signs of mental abuse; being in the company of someone controlling them; and appearing to be coached on what to say.

Falle stated emphatically, “We want buyers of sex to know you are not welcome here.”

If you, or someone you know, is being sexually exploited, the Manitoulin Northshore Victims Services number is 705-370-3378 or toll free 1-866-392-7733.

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