By Dani Tobert
Suppose you ask a group of people what the signs of someone experiencing Human Trafficking are. In that case, they may say it looks like a person suddenly withdrawing from their friends and family or disappearing at night for several hours. Although these two concepts are a good start, they do not cover the full scope of what Human Trafficking can look like, nor are they an exhaustive list.
For most people, the signs of Human Trafficking are difficult to describe; this difficulty increases if they are asked to differentiate between the increased risk of exploitation and exploitation. If we want to understand Human Trafficking better, this difficulty needs to be addressed.
Sex Trafficking is a type of Human Trafficking that falls under the umbrella of sexual exploitation. To help folks identify what Sex Trafficking can look like, this article will unpack some of the signs.
This article will also explain how you can begin to address a possible situation of Sex Trafficking with a trauma-informed approach. If we can better understand what Sex Trafficking can look like and how to respond to it, we will be better equipped to tackle it and implement preventative measures.
Please be advised that this blog post includes difficult, upsetting or triggering content about sexual assault, human trafficking, and exploitation. If you are uncomfortable while reading this article, please do not hesitate to call our 24 Hour Support Line at 519-741-8633. This blog post is NOT meant to be used as an assessment tool to help determine if someone is being exploited or at risk of being exploited. SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking program can be consulted if a risk assessment is needed.
Sex Trafficking: who is at Risk, and who is Involved?
How do you Observe for Signs?
What are the Signs of Sex Trafficking?
Before we explore the signs of Sex Trafficking, a vital difference must be named: sex work and Sex Trafficking are NOT the same things. The main difference is choice and consent.
It is legal in Canada for consenting adults aged 18+ to sell sexual services. Treating sex work and Sex Trafficking the same does an immense amount of harm to not only sex workers but also the movement to end Sex Trafficking.
In addition, looking for signs requires the recognition of a pattern of multiple drastic changes in behaviours, not just one behaviour.
For family and friends, the following are signs to observe:
For support workers, the following signs may be observed:
How do you Respond to Signs of Sexual Exploitation?
Now that you know a bit more about Sex Trafficking, it is time to learn how to respond to what you suspect is a sexually exploitative situation. When you notice a pattern of drastic changes in behaviour, the first action is to recognize when you need support.
Contact SASC’s Anti-Human Trafficking Program
When the person you're worried about displays signs or tells you about being exploited, SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking program is here to provide support through services like a risk assessment and direct 1-1 consultation. If you suspect someone you know is experiencing sexual exploitation, please get in touch with SASC at 519-571-0121 ext. 111 or email email@example.com from Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. To learn more about SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking Program, click HERE.
Utilize a trauma-informed approach
After recognizing when you need support and reaching out to programs like SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking Program for help, engaging with the person using a trauma-informed approach is essential. This approach recognizes trauma's impact on a person instead of blaming them for what has occurred.
People experiencing sexual exploitation may have feelings of shame surrounding what they have been forced to do; therefore, if you ask a person if something is happening and they disclose to you that they are experiencing Sex Trafficking, do NOT blame them. Instead, remain calm, thank them for trusting you with their story, help them meet their immediate needs (i.e., providing them with a meal, bus tickets, and access to water), and give them space to talk. Furthermore, if they identify that they have been in an exploitative situation, ask them how they would like you to name it (I.e., "I was exploited") and match your wording with theirs. Practice active listening, empathy, and be mindful of your body language.
Offer other supports and resources
Finally, once you and the person have spoken about what has happened to them, ask them if they would like to be connected to appropriate resources to receive support. SASC's Anti-Human Trafficking program has resources that directly support survivors of Sex Trafficking to leave and/or heal from their exploitative situation, which is shared during our work with community members.
If you want other support, contact Victim Services of Waterloo Region at 519-570-5143 or The Canadian National Human Trafficking Hotline's phone or online chat function that operates 24/7 under 1-833-900-1010. If the person is not interested in connecting with appropriate resources, do not pressure them. They have had their autonomy taken away by a trafficker and do not need you to treat them similarly. Through patience and compassion with the person, progress can be made.
We hope this post has provided insight into what the signs of someone experiencing sexual exploitation can look like. We can all do our part to eliminate Human Trafficking in our community, and it starts today.
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