A month on from a pair of incidents that left two local women fearing for their safety, and with investigations still ongoing, Haliburton Highlands OPP is reminding people to be vigilant while out in the community.

Mike Melnychuk, a constable with the Highlands detachment, shared some safety tips with media recently in response to situations where women were followed or approached by unknown males in broad daylight.

On April 25, at around 4 p.m., a woman driving from Haliburton to Minden believed she was being followed by a gold-coloured cube van. The driver changed course and went to the OPP detachment on Hwy. 35, at which point the van fled the area.

Then, on May 9, at approximately 1:30 p.m., a white pickup truck followed a pedestrian in Haliburton village.

Melnychuk said in both cases the women did the right thing staving off their assailants.

“Do not drive directly to your residence if you think you are being followed. Consider driving to a well-lit business location that is open, [such as] a gas station, convenience store or restaurant, or a police station, to wait for police,” Melnychuk said.

He recommended people keep their vehicles fueled to prevent breakdowns that may leave them isolated. Always communicate travel plans and consider allowing a trusted family member or friend to track your phone location to monitor travel.

If you have had any suspicious incidents in the past, Melnychuk said it’s important to document dates, times, and locations to help police with any investigation.

Speaking to The Highlander, the woman involved in the incident in Haliburton village said while she’s trying to put the exchange to the back of her mind, she wanted to come forward to warn other women. Granted anonymity to protect her identity, the woman said she brushed off the initial exchange as, “just one of those things women have to put up with.”

Walking alone down Maple Avenue, the woman said she was accosted by a man as she turned onto York Street.

“I thought it was cat calling initially, so I ignored him. Then the yelling grew louder and before I knew it, the guy was standing right behind me,” the woman said. “He just kept asking ‘do you want to make some money’, and telling me to get in his truck, or meet him in the park. I knew enough to say I wasn’t going anywhere with him.”

Panicking, the woman spotted a friend who chased the man away.

“It all happened so quickly, probably about a minute in total, but my heart was pounding. It was a very aggressive encounter. I could just tell the guy’s intentions weren’t good,” she said. “It made me think of those stories and reports out of the city about women being trafficked.”

John Hagarty, executive director of Kawartha/Haliburton Victim Services, said there have been no complaints of trafficking activity in the region since Jan. 1, 2022, though noted that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening, only that it’s not being reported.

The same can’t be said in nearby Simcoe County, where Kim Kneeshaw, executive director of North Simcoe Victim Services, said human trafficking is rife.

“We see more instances of labour trafficking (forced to work) than we do sex trafficking,” she told The Highlander.

In March, OPP charged a 59-year-old Orillia man with 11 counts of human trafficking after abusing 15 victims, ranging in age from 21 to 54.

“There can be a lot of shame and embarrassment for victims… that’s why a lot of times women who have been trafficked don’t come forward,” Kneeshaw said.

The Haliburton woman said she wasn’t going to report the May 9 incident before friends and family encouraged her to do so. She noted the experience reminded her of the need to be cautious while out and about.

“It’s scary for things like this to be happening here. I’ve lived in Haliburton my whole life, but this is something new,” she said. “I want to make sure other women know about the dangers out there. Hopefully by talking, we can raise awareness and make sure women know what they should do if they’re ever approached.”