“That doesn’t happen here.” This is the usual response when I bring up the ever-present issue of human trafficking in Canada. “That’s only in other, more underdeveloped countries.” My friends and family say naively. It is astonishing that there is such a lack of knowledge regarding the trafficking of women and girls (and I mean girls: the average age for trafficking victims is 13 years and is getting younger) that is prevalent in “first world” countries. I suppose it is an issue that is not easy to talk about, and therefore not talked about. Canadian citizens continue to remain in the dark about something so heinous and cruel yet it has become one of the biggest legal issues in the country.
Unlike the preconceived notions of many of those around me, female trafficking victims in Canada aren’t just relocated into Canada from other countries. Many victims are Canadians who come from marginalized groups such as Aboriginals, young girls, immigrants, minorities, and abuse survivors and have lived in the country all their lives.
I was discussing the issue with a friend recently who was in disbelief that this could happen in her own backyard. She asked questions such as, “how does this happen?” “Why does our government let this happen?” and “How can we help?” All very good questions which require addressing:
How does the trafficking of women happen in Canada?
Often, trafficking victims are lured by traffickers who use deception to trap them with promises of better living conditions, a career, or are simply abducted. The trafficker could be an organized crime ring/gang, pimp or even a friend or family member. Many female victims have a history of sexual abuse and domestic violence. The victims may be lured from public places such as bus or train stations, shops and in the street however the internet is becoming the biggest medium for luring victims in.
Traffickers use many techniques to be able to continue to exploit and traffic women. Many times they threaten their lives and the lives of their loved ones. They will also isolate them from their loved ones and use techniques such as torture, rape, starvation and confinement to keep them conditioned.
Women and girls from other countries are falsely promised a job in a peaceful country or a whirlwind romance and then forced into trafficking.
Why does our government let this happen?
It is not an issue of the government allowing trafficking to happen. Trafficking is a very underground, lucrative business that is extremely difficult to trace. Victims can be hidden behind businesses such as escort services and massage parlors. They may also be working in residential brothels which are very hard to find without a proactive investigation.
There are currently many initiatives taking place in Canada to combat human trafficking. This is what Public Safety Canada has to say about their efforts:
“Canada was among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children. Our efforts are guided by this Trafficking Protocol and seek to prevent trafficking from occurring, protect victims of human trafficking, bring its perpetrators to justice and build partnerships domestically and internationally. To effectively combat this issue will require the involvement not only of the federal government, but of provincial and territorial governments as well. And to be successful, governments must also work closely with law enforcement, civil society and others.
While many initiatives are underway, both at home and abroad, the time has come to consolidate all of the activities into one comprehensive plan with an unwavering pledge to action. The Government of Canada's National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking proposes strategies that will better support organizations providing assistance to victims and helps to protect foreign nationals, including young female immigrants who arrive in Canada alone, from being subjected to illegitimate or unsafe work.
The National Action Plan builds on our current responses and commitment to work together with our partners to prevent and combat this disturbing crime. It leverages and builds on Canada's international and domestic experience to date and provides aggressive new initiatives in order to address human trafficking in all its forms.”
There are many other not-for-profit organizations that are contributing to the halt of human trafficking such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation and many others.
How can we help?
· Spread the word. Educate your friends and family on the issue, they may not even know that it is happening right in their own city.
· Ask your MLA and/or MP what they are doing about human trafficking.
· Make a donation or get active with an organization that is involved with combating human trafficking.
· Write an article for your local newspaper or online blog.
· Contact the local authorities and/or a women’s crisis line if you suspect it’s happening in your community.
It is time for Canadians (and residents of other “first world’ countries, for that matter) to open their eyes to this hideous crime. The longer we are blind, the longer traffickers profit.
By Jennifer Andrews