Facts and Myths about Sex Trafficking in Canada

Photo credit: Matthew S. Browning.

The Calgary Circle, the newest affiliate in our sisterhood of Circles, is supporting ACT Alberta, an organisation that works to end human trafficking in Alberta, Canada. To help end human trafficking it is important to understand the issue better, which is why The Calgary Circle committee members Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner have written this list of facts and myths about human trafficking in Canada. If you’d like to find out more about their work with ACT Alberta and donate, please click here.

FACT: HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS A CRIMINAL OFFENCE

The legal definition of human trafficking requires three elements:
1) the act of recruitment, transportation or harbouring a person;
2) by means of exercising control, direction or influence over their movements;
3) for the purpose of exploiting that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour.

Due to the clandestine nature of trafficking, it is difficult to quantify the number and determine the types of victims, but it is believed that most trafficking victims in Canada are sexually exploited.

MYTH: TRAFFICKING IS THE SAME AS SMUGGLING

Although the idea of trafficking can invoke a nefarious vision of a victim being transported across borders under cover of darkness, the reality is often far different. Trafficking victims are not necessarily moved across international borders and approximately 94% of the cases of sex trafficking identified in Canada have occurred within its borders.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS BIG BUSINESS

Sex trafficking can be less problematic, easier to conceal and more profitable than selling drugs. On
average, every trafficked woman in Canada generates just under $300,000 for her traffickers per year.

MYTH: ONLY CERTAIN PEOPLE ARE CONSIDERED TO BE “AT RISK”

The major risk factors for being trafficked are living in poverty; having a personal history of violence or neglect; or being otherwise vulnerable to manipulation and coercion. However, the number one risk factor is being female. Women and children from every socio-economic background are at risk and anyone can be targeted and exploited.

FACT: VICTIMS ARE PREDOMINANTELY WOMEN

Approximately 95% of trafficked victims are female: most under the age of 25. Of note, in Canada, indigenous women are disproportionately affected. Although indigenous people make up approximately 4% of the population, they account for approximately 50% of sex trafficking victims.

MYTH: VICTIMS ARE PHYSICALLY FORCED INTO TRAFFICKING

Relationships between traffickers and their victims often begin with what the victim believes to be a friendship or romantic relationship. A common technique used by traffickers is to lure teens and young women into sex trafficking by treating them well, initially. Many victims are recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance. Often, the victim is “groomed” by someone pretending to be her boyfriend or friend who promises her a better life and buys her gifts. The average age of girls who are manipulated in this manner is 13. In the case of older teens or young women, the trafficker also buys gifts and may promise her a good job in a new city. Once a relationship has developed, the trafficker is able to more easily emotionally manipulate the victim and exploit her vulnerabilities. The trafficker often becomes violent and may threaten and isolate the victim but continue to show occasional affection. Through these tactics, the trafficker gains control and the victim can be coerced into selling sex for others’ profit. Because of the nature of the relationship and how it is developed, the victim might not understand that she is being trafficked.

FACT: TRAFFICKING IS A HIDDEN CRIME

Much of the sex trade has moved away from the street to the internet. The solicitation of sex predominantly occurs online through local classified and escort pages, which makes it difficult to locate and identify sex trafficking victims. Victims often do not come forward for many reasons, including fear of retribution and further violence from their trafficker; fear of arrest because they have been coerced into performing illegal activities; lack of knowledge about their legal rights, and lack of understanding that they have been victimized and trafficked.

Prosecution is often difficult because victims are often frightened and unwilling to testify against the perpetrators. It can also be difficult to prove in court that the woman was, in fact, a victim and not a willing participant due to the coercive nature of the relationship between the victim and trafficker. Because of these reasons and more, most (60%) of trafficking cases in Canada have resulted in a decision of stayed or withdrawn whereas only 30% resulted in a guilty finding.

Written by Helen Maguire and Susan Ferner.

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