London Abused Women's Centre hails anti-sex-trafficking online ad success

London Abused Women’s Centre says an anti-sex-trafficking online ad campaign that drew scores of calls for help from women and girls was so successful, it's already planning another.

London Abused Women’s Centre says an anti-sex-trafficking online ad campaign that drew scores of calls for help from women and girls was so successful, it’s already planning another.

The online ads, targeting both possible trafficking victims and sex buyers, appeared or were viewed 980,338 times, according to final numbers from the four-month spring campaign, the centre said Thursday.

Search engine ads targeting potential sex abuse victims drew 117 calls to the centre from women and girls who clicked on the phone number link in the ad.

Anti-sex trafficking digital ad results

  • 980,338: Ad views and appearances
  • $14,000: Approximate cost of initiative
  • 10,730: Clicks ads received
  • 117: Women who clicked phone number link in the ad and called for help
  • 4: Months the campaign ran

“These are just the ones we know of, who clicked on their phone to call after seeing the ad . . . There are likely others,” said centre executive director Megan Walker. “It exceeded all expectations . . . We thought if we could help one woman, just one woman, it would be worth the investment.”

The four-month, $14,000 effort by the centre, Youth Opportunities Unlimited and Salvation Army Correctional and Justice Services began April 18. Ads were directed at London and communities within 25 kilometres of the city.

The groups, aided by London web design firm tbk Creative, ran targeted Facebook ads to reach potential sex trafficking victims and potential buyers. They also opted for search engine ads that popped up when specific keywords were entered or when the searcher matched certain geographic or demographic criteria.

The ads were directed at London and communities within a 25-kilometre radius.

“When you think it’s just directed to London and it was only four months long, it’s pretty overwhelming, it’s pretty exciting,” Walker said. “And for us, it shows that it is definitely a new way to target and reach people.”

The campaign wasn’t just designed to reach potential victims, Walker said. It also sought to educate sex buyers about the legal consequences they could faced.

During the campaign, someone searching for escort services in the city, for example, could see the ad targeting sex buyers. Clicking on it brought up information on Canada’s prostitution laws and penalties.

“Many men don’t understand that what they are doing is illegal,” Walker said. “We wanted to make sure they had solid knowledge of the legislation.”

Canada’s existing prostitution law, introduced by the Conservative government in 2014, criminalizes pimping, owning brothels and buying sex.

“Our goal is ultimately to end demand and I think the more information we can provide to men about what prostitution and exploitation and trafficking is, the better results we’ll see in men ending that behaviour,” Walker said.

The centre is launching another digital ad campaign next month for its Shine the Light on Woman Abuse initiative to raise awareness of violence against women and girls.

The agency is seeking funding for another anti-sex trafficking online ad blitz, Walker said.

“I think it’s had a really dramatic and significant impact and it’s something I want to continue to do,” Walker said. “117 women is obviously just the tip of the iceberg.”

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