With Tuesday's eye-opening news that seven individuals were arrested in Portage following a child exploitation and human trafficking investigation, Manitobans are being encouraged to be vigilant.  

Staff Sergeant Tara Clelland is in charge of the human trafficking portfolio for Manitoba RCMP Major Crimes Services.  

She says it is important to know that human trafficking reaches every corner of our province and is often happening right under our noses. She says we should be on the lookout for red flags. 

"What people can be looking out for, just as parents know what your kids are doing online, know what social media accounts they have, who they're talking to, who they're spending time with. Pay attention if they appear with new items that they don't have the means to acquire like shoes and clothing and purses, jewelry, devices, different things like that.” 

She adds there are indicators in public settings as well. 

“If somebody doesn't answer questions for themselves, if somebody else is speaking for them, if it appears that maybe somebody isn't in control of their own movements, or are not in possession of their own identification or money. Maybe somebody appears to be fearful or intimidated by an individual that they're with, unexplained injuries, bruises, marks, things such as that.” 

Though none of these indicators guarantee that an individual is being trafficked, Clelland says they should certainly raise some red flags. 

Clelland says traffickers often use seemingly trustworthy people to recruit youth and may use a technique dubbed ‘love bombing’ to endear themselves to possible victims. She says it is hugely important to understand that this could happen to anyone, and it is not dependent on background, life circumstances, or race. 

“It could be my child, it could be yours. Traffickers are extremely skilled at identifying vulnerabilities and using those vulnerabilities to exploit. Whether that is somebody's needing to feel a sense of belonging, whether it's basic needs like food, shelter, clothing, if there is substance abuse issues, regardless of what that vulnerability is, we all have them and traffickers are experts at identifying them and exploiting them.” 

Of course, Clelland says parents should monitor their children’s activity to protect them these sorts of threats, but she also calls on the whole community to work together. 

“We really encourage everybody to take some ownership of the safety of our youth and our communities. If something seems non-typical, if a youth is traveling alone in a manner that wouldn't be typical for a child that age or at hours of the day that wouldn't be typical, or if something just kind of feels wrong, it's probably because it is. Call and report those things.” 

Clelland says these types of activities often take place out in the open and we don’t notice. 

“As a community we're kind of misled a little bit by Hollywood and movies about what it looks like. Really it could be happening in Tim Horton's while you sit there and have your coffee, while you're checking into a hotel chain, it could be happening in a lobby and you're not aware, it's not obvious.” 

Unfortunately, for many reasons, Clelland says we cannot expect or depend on victims or exploited persons to reach out for help themselves. In fact, she sometimes victims do not realize they are being exploited until much later.  

If you do believe there is a chance someone is being exploited or trafficked, Clelland says it is best to go to your local RCMP detachment, unless there is immediate danger or concern of imminent harm, in which case you should call 911.  

She adds “If you see something, say something and absolutely it gets followed up.”