KITCHENER -- A stark message is being made from a new human trafficking education campaign in Waterloo Region: “it happens here.”

This slogan is on posters that are being put up in 19 public high schools, libraries, community centres, bars, and hotels throughout the area.

“Educate, but also say these are the things you can look for,” said Julia Manuel, the director of the WR Sexual Assault and Domestic Violent Treatment Centre. “These are the risk factors and here are some agencies that can help you.”

She says girls and women are being lured into sex trafficking along the 401 corridor.

“They are just sort of being transported up and down the highway,” Manuel said. “That makes us more vulnerable to human trafficking.”

She adds that it might not be obvious human trafficking and sexual exploitation happens here.

“It is such a hidden crime,” she said. “The image we used was sort of a sheep in wolf’s clothes to say that this person can come across very nicely.

“They tell you that they love you but they don’t really have our best interest at heart.”

The numbers of reported cases are up and girls aged 14-24 are at greatest risk.

“In 2019, we had 90 investigations done and 40 criminal charges in regards to those investigations,” said Const. Andre Johnson of Waterloo Regional Police.

Waterloo Region District School Board says sex trafficking will be added to the curriculum and they will look for natural connections to introduce the topic to students.

One student tells CTV Kitchener they want to learn more about the subject because if they hadn’t seen the posters, they wouldn’t have known it was a problem.

“I was doing a presentation on it and people in the class were like, ‘oh I didn’t thing that could happen to us,’” another student said. “What people need to realize is that it can happen to them.”

The launch of the campaign is a lead up to International Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Saturday.