Today, February 22nd, is National Human Trafficking Awareness Day. Today is a day dedicated to bringing awareness to the need to combat labour trafficking, and sex trafficking in Canada.
At SASC, we acknowledge that human trafficking is a pervasive threat to public safety in Waterloo Region and that it is vital to unpack myths and facts about human trafficking to bring awareness to the issue.
In addition to reading this article, we encourage you to consider attending our annual educational play, Chelsea's Story, based on a real case of sex trafficking.
Please be advised that this blog post includes difficult, upsetting or triggering content about sexual assault, human trafficking and exploitation. If you are made uncomfortable at any point during your reading of this post, please do not hesitate to call our 24-Hour Support Line at: 519 741 8633.
Human Trafficking 101
What is Human Trafficking? Human Trafficking is the act of recruiting, transporting, or harboring a person for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is typically done using threats, force, fraud, deception, coercion, or a power imbalance to control one or more individuals. There are stages in Human Trafficking, which begin from a person being at risk of becoming exploited to a person being forced to commit acts online and in person (i.e., trafficking).
Sex trafficking is the most reported form of human trafficking in Ontario. This is when a person is forced to commit sexual acts against their will. Although people of all genders and ages are impacted, sex trafficking is a gender-based crime that predominantly impacts women and girls (96%) as well as folks aged 24 and below (69%). People with other characteristics are also targeted, as we live in a society where different systems of oppression operate to make some folks more vulnerable than others.
If a person is racialized, a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, a newcomer to Canada, has a precarious immigration status, is neurodivergent, experiences poverty, has unstable housing, is seeking belonging/connection, or has mental health and/or physical health challenges, all of these factors can increase their vulnerability. Traffickers or exploitative people will look for individuals who are experiencing multiple intersections of vulnerability, both systemically and individually, because they know that folks from these communities are less likely to be protected, believed, and/or resourced.
To eliminate human trafficking, it is imperative that we address the root causes rather than only focusing on individual factors. This includes poverty, isolation, racism and discrimination, colonization, misogyny, fear/hatred/prejudice of sex workers (also known as whorephobia), cis-heteropatriarchy, Crimmigration, language barriers, and harmful governmental and organizational policies.
It is important to keep in mind that anyone can be a target of human trafficking; therefore, we should all take the time to understand the risk factors of human trafficking, what the signs of exploitation are, and what resources and services are available to combat them (such as SASC’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program).
Did You Know?
Thankfully, there are several Indigenous-led programs in Ontario working to combat human trafficking using trauma and culturally informed approaches. SASC cannot and should not do this work alone, as it is only through all of our communities working together that human trafficking can and will be stopped.
If you want to help these efforts continue, checkout the Indigenous-led organizations below and donate to their efforts:
We also recommend checking out the Native Women’s Association of Canada’s MMIWG Calls for Justice to learn how you can help contribute to the de-colonization movement, which can be accessed online by clicking the button below.
Myths & Facts Unpacked
There are many myths about human trafficking that dilute our community’s understanding of what is exploitation and how it can happen. Click on the human trafficking myths below to reveal the facts.
MYTH: The majority of human trafficking targeting Canadians happens internationally. It does not actually happen in Ontario.
No, human trafficking does happen in Ontario. Ontario represents 62% of all reported cases in Canada and similar to other acts of sexual violence, it most often goes unreported, meaning this number is likely higher. Ontario is a large, densely populated province with expansive corridors for inter-regional trafficking, one of the most common forms of human trafficking in the province. This is when someone is transported from their region to one nearby, exploited, and then returned to their original region. It can and does happen in your community, and the more we acknowledge this fact, the more our community can better recognize the risk signs and act preemptively.
MYTH: Sex work and human trafficking are the same and all sex workers are victims.
Sex work and sex trafficking are NOT the same. Sex workers have control over their working conditions, what services they provide, how much they charge, and are able to stop doing their work at any time. They are NOT victims. People who are being trafficked do not have control over what they are doing, the profits that are being made, and are unable to stop. There is NO option to exit.
In Canada, you can provide sexual services if you are a consenting adult who is 18 or older, but the purchasing of services is illegal alongside different sex work-adjacent activities, such as advertising services online, hiring of body guards, working in a co-op with other sex workers, as well as communicating in public about services. This pushes sex workers to operate underground, away from community where their safety is less secure. Due to Canada’s current laws surrounding sex work and harmful stigmas about this type of work, many sex workers experience violence and, for some, have experienced death. Follow the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform on social media to learn more about the fight to change Canadian sex work law that’s happening right now. Sex workers are allies in the fight to end human trafficking, but regardless of that, they deserve to be protected and celebrated like any other person.
MYTH: Grooming and trafficking cannot happen virtually. It can only happen in-person. You can just “log off” and easily avoid being exploited.
Grooming and trafficking can absolutely happen virtually. Online exploitation has increased in recent years, but even more recently due to the COVID-19 pandemic shifting us to be more online. With the internet allowing anonymous access to peoples’ lives, it is easier than ever before for traffickers to disguise themselves and gain the trust of vulnerable people.
Open-world games directed towards younger audiences with voice or text chat, such as Fortnite or Roblox, allow young people to speak with strangers. It is not as easy as “logging off,” because when a trafficker begins grooming someone, they do not make their intentions known. They disguise themselves as someone the person can connect with, and this fake friendship escalates into the trafficker coercing the person into sending personal information, photos, or videos. Then, this information and/or files can be used to exploit them further.
MYTH: If an individual is not being physically forced to stay, they are choosing to stay with their trafficker. So, it is actually their fault.
This myth perpetuates a victim-blaming mentality to the understanding of what Human Trafficking is and what it can look like. When someone is being exploited, it involves other pressures to stay besides physical ones we are used to seeing in pop culture and Hollywood movies (such as someone being kept captive in ropes or chains). There are many reasons a person may stay with their trafficker, for example, someone may stay because they are being blackmailed, they lack housing options, are pregnant, have a negative relationship with authority, criminal charges, or they because of a dependency on their trafficker that was built to keep them entrenched in an exploitative situation. Fear is a huge factor for why someone may stay, as threats of harm against them, their family, or their friends can make them feel like there’s no other option.
Debt bondage is another reason that is not commonly discussed. This is when a trafficker provides a person with services or items and tells them they are free of charge, only to inform them later that they were not free after all and the person must now work to pay off the debt or face repercussions, which instills fear. We must never blame someone entrenched in Human Trafficking for their situation, because doing so is incredibly harmful and will not help to strengthen their sense of autonomy.
MYTH: Society is not responsible for the issue of human trafficking. It is an individual’s responsibility to avoid being exploited and to get out of exploitative situations.
Placing individual responsibility on people for their situation completely disregards our interconnectedness and the fact that systems of oppression exist. Colonialism, cis-heteropatriarchy, classism, ableism, misogyny, sexism, fear/hatred/prejudice of sex workers (also known as whorephobia), homophobia, transphobia, and racism uphold and perpetuate trafficking by pushing the idea that some people are more disposable than others. These are systems of oppression, and they perpetuate the idea that some people do not deserve to live a life of fulfillment and safety based on who they are or what they want for themselves.
We as a community hold the responsibility of dismantling these systems because we are all responsible for the welfare of others due to the nature of being a community, and community care starts now. It starts with addressing the harms that these systems have created, through advocacy for their abolition by changing places, policies, and services that perpetuate them, and recognizing that we must combat issues like Human Trafficking holistically together as a community, otherwise, they will not go away.
What is SASC doing about Human Trafficking?
SASC’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program (AHTP) uses a trauma-informed, harm reduction, and feminist approach to provide wrap-around services to those experiencing sexual exploitation and those who are at significant risk within Waterloo Region.
Wrap-around services means that AHTP connects the individual with other resources and services we have built relationships with in order for them to have their needs met. This act of community care ensures a holistic, needs-based perspective is taken in our work to support people. That way, no one gets left behind.
AHTP is a free, confidential, and non-judgmental program to all participants. It is accessible to all genders ages 12 and up, and is available regardless of immigration or citizenship status.
AHTP has a working relationship with Waterloo Regional Police Service. This relationship acknowledges the time and place for police services to be utilized, while also finding ways to collaborate with them and other community members to reduce the harm that police inherently create - with specific attention paid to their impacts on equity deserving communities. A survivor reporting their experience to the police is always survivor-led at SASC.
SASC has several prevention efforts that work to reduce risk in Waterloo Region. Some of these prevention efforts look like AHTP facilitating educational programming for other social services, schools, and organizations on Human Trafficking, directly supporting those with lowered risk before it increases with one-to-one counselling, and conducting advocacy for those experiencing barriers to finding support. Our work is not only reactive, but also proactive.
There are several services that AHTP offers to Waterloo Region as well as other communities where accessible, as we have done online facilitation in the past. These services are the following:
We hope that this post has given you insight into what human trafficking is, what the signs of it are, and what resources and services exist to combat it. We can all do our part to eliminate human trafficking in our community, and it starts right now.
The AHTP team at SASC is made up of three individuals who are here to support you. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you or someone you know are in need or if you are unsure about a person’s risk, as we also help the community identify what is and isn’t sexual exploitation.
Please contact us at 519-571-0121 ext. 111 or email firstname.lastname@example.org from Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Those needing service after hours can contact Victim Services of Waterloo Region at 519-570-5143. The Canadian National Human Trafficking Hotline that operates 24/7 is 1-833-900-1010 and can also be contacted for help.
Written By Dani Tobert
Dani is a non-binary, queer settler who is studying at Renison University College's Bachelor of Social Work program to become a counselor. They are working with SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking program as a student and are passionate about consent culture, community care, and harm reduction.
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