Sixteen-year-old Tagen Marshall, a Nanaimo Christian School student, is spreading awareness about the issue of human trafficking. (Tamara Cunningham/News Bulletin)

Nanaimo teen educates community about human trafficking

Tagen Marshall, 16, spreads awareness and what can be done to stop it

All it takes is one person to start a movement.

That’s the message 16-year-old Tagen Marshall recently delivered to city council as part of a push to show politicians how important an issue human trafficking is and how they can help stop it.

It was the most moving presentation the mayor said he’s ever seen in front of council in “four and a half years” he’s been involved.

Marshall, a Nanaimo Christian School student, started his research into human trafficking as part of a classroom project last September because it wasn’t an issue he knew much about. As a teen in foster care himself, he knew he wanted to do something about it when he read a statistic about the number of children once in foster care and were exploited.

He’s reached out to Nanaimo and Qualicum city councils and hopes to meet with Nanaimo RCMP Supt. Cameron Miller.

“I started this thinking, oh well, it’s a third- or second-world issue, doesn’t happen here whatsoever — you know, naive, Grade 11 student, but as I was reading through Invisible Chains and talking with Cathy Peters (an educator on human trafficking), it became evident that people are vulnerable and people are more vulnerable than we think,” said Marshall, who says education is the greatest weapon. “William Wilberforce … the fellow that stopped slavery in the British Parliament, has a great quote: ‘you may now choose to look away, but you can never say that you did not know.’ If we don’t educate people, if we don’t educate our children on what a healthy relationship looks like, our daughters, our sons are in jeopardy.”

Sex trafficking and exploitation is happening across the country. Statistics Canada report Trafficking in Persons in Canada 2014 shows between 2009-14 there were 396 victims of police-reported human trafficking and 25 per cent of victims were under the age of 18.

Forty-seven per cent were between 18-24.

Social agencies, police and health-care workers know Nanaimo is not immune and a sex-trade cohort, made up of 17 organizations, has put together an action plan to address harms associated with the sex trade, including preventing sexual exploitation of youth and educating service providers to recognize signs of sexual exploitation or human trafficking.

Peters, an educator on the issue of human trafficking, youth and child exploitation in B.C., puts Marshall in the category of “world changer” and said he’s the kind of person who should be speaking in high schools because young people will talk to him. He can warn his age group human trafficking is happening, they can be targeted and this can happen to them, she said.

Brian DeSchiffart, teacher at Nanaimo Christian School, told the News Bulletin the goal of social justice class project is to show students they can be difference makers in the world where there are injustices and how people can make a difference in other people’s lives, even in a small way.

“It doesn’t matter your age, you can make a difference somewhere and so I think he’s shown that to his classmates and the people he’s contacted and myself too,” DeSchiffart said. “I’m real proud of him and what he’s done and some of the goals he has in his life.”

Marshall can’t say how long he’ll tackle the human trafficking issue, but he says it’s changed him forever and the most important thing he wants people to know is that it exists here. To stop it, he says people need to do research, speak out, and know the warning signs in the community. There’s also a need for prevention, protection, prosecution and partnerships.

“Those faces, those families, the very cases which are here in Nanaimo should penetrate you to the core of your being because we’re taking away the very right of freedom which Canada puts itself on … well, does a free country involve buying and selling girls for the purpose of sex drive and sexual exploitation?”