Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, January 23, 2019. Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News)

LAWC expanding online awareness campaign

An online ad campaign aimed at helping trafficked and exploited women connect with the London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) is expanding into nine cities along the 401 corridor.

The ads, which target trafficking victims and sex buyers, will now reach people in Windsor, London, Woodstock, Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, Guelph, Milton, Mississauga, and Toronto.

“We know this area in particular is a hotbed or a hub for sex trafficking because all of the cities have easy access off the 400 series highways, particularly the 401,” said LAWC Executive Director Megan Walker.

The agency was able to build on last year’s successful public awareness initiative thanks to a $103,000 grant from the federal government.

The ads launched on Instagram, Facebook, and Google last Friday and will continue to circulate for the next four months. One set of ads targets women aged 18-25 who may be victims or at risk of becoming victims of sex trafficking. A second set, directed at men aged 18-65, reminds those interested in buying sex that their actions are illegal. A new third set of ads helps parents identify potential warning signs of trafficking.

“We added the parental component because so many of these girls are young – 16 or 17-years-old,” said Walker. “The parents are devastated and they don’t know what to do. They’re just completely frozen and so they reach out and call to us for service and we provide them with some counselling and support and also advocate on their behalf with various police departments across the country to help them locate their children.”

The ads were designed by London-based digital marketing company tbk Creative. They work by popping up when someone searches keywords such as “escorts”, “seeking prostitution”, “bad relationship”, “abusive relationship.”

“With these ads reaching women there is always a call to action to help out, to get support, to create a free safety plan, and work with LAWC and their amazing programs,” said Kylie McConnell, tbk’s director of accounts. “We really encourage them at every step to call the abused women’s centre, to submit a form, to reach out. There is always an avenue for them to get in touch with LAWC or a related agency.”

Ads directed at sex buyers connect to a downloadable PDF fact sheet about Canada’s prostitution laws and the serious consequences associated with breaking those laws.

Despite being limited to London and a 20-kilometre radius around the city, last year’s campaign saw 37 women seek help from LAWC directly and 125 others contact the agency for information. There were more than 9,000 clicks on the ads that advised men about the illegality of buying sex. tbk anticipates the current campaign will generate 68,000 website visits and hundreds of calls to LAWC and other local agencies for support.

“Our goal is to change and save the lives of women and children who are being trafficked across this country,” said Walker.