Modern Slavery: Human Trafficking in Ontario
Growing up in Wawa and other small northern communities, my exposure to large scale criminal activity was limited and therefore so was my knowledge. Certainly terms like “human trafficking” (HT) didn’t register to me as something that is a small town problem, especially in our small and quaint community. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I became familiarized with the crime and until recently began actively joining the fight to combat human trafficking. I am often asked “does human trafficking actually happen here is Wawa?” Although I am currently unaware of any cases within our community, I can say with confidence that Wawa has hosted trafficked victims and their perpetrators.
Wawa and Area Victim Services has joined the fight to combat human trafficking by executing strategies such as awareness and education, advocating, and internal training. As part of this approach, we will be printing articles on the different sectors of human trafficking. Our goal is to educate our community about what human trafficking is, what it looks like in a small community like ours, how we can recognize it, and what we can do about it.
HT is a very complex and involved crime that is comprised of many other illegal activities. There are many different aspects and sectors of human trafficking which I will explore in greater detail in future articles. In order to understand the extreme nature of the crime it is important to understand the language in which the crime is described. According to the Criminal Code of Canada, human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and or exercising control, direction or influence over the movement of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is often described as a modern form of slavery and is described as a low-risk and high profit crime. The 3 most common types of human trafficking are sex trafficking, forced labour and debt bondage. It is my goal to cover each of these sections as well as few others in future articles. The focus of this article is to give you a quick introduction to sex trafficking.
Human sex trafficking is a ghost crime that is meant to be hidden and masked as sex work. The difference between sex work and human trafficking is CONSENT. The Criminal Code of Canada states that there is no informed consent for human trafficking because of the nature of the crime. Sex workers choose their clients, hours of work and they get to keep their money. Trafficked victims do not have any choices or control over any of the clients, money, work hours, living arrangements or any other daily functions. It is not unusual for HT victims to have to ask permission for washroom breaks. They are not given proper nutrition, medical care or living conditions. They are treated as a commodity to be used and exploited.
The traffickers use coercion, threats, physical violence or debt bondage to keep their victims oppressed and feel like there is no way to get out of the work without suffering unthinkable consequences. Victims often times do not even know that they are victims or they believe that they will be held criminally responsible for their actions. This is a common tactic that traffickers use to keep their victims under their control. However, current laws on prostitution in Canada, introduced in 2014, make it illegal to purchase sexual services but legal to sell them. Victims are typically unaware of any rights that they have because of the way in which they are exploited. Even if a trafficked victim knew that what was happening to them was illegal, the opportunity to leave their traffickers grasp is prevented by the overwhelming fear that they will be harmed or their loved ones would be harmed.
Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry that is on the rise. It thrives on supply and demand. The people who are buying services from traffickers are keeping the victims in bondage. We need to strive to eliminate the demand to purchase sex so that traffickers do not have a market to profit from. It has been documented by law enforcement that the demand for younger and younger girls is increasing. To satisfy the demand, traffickers are preying on girls as young as 10; in some cases, younger. The idea is that the younger the girl is, the longer she can work before she is considered “used up”. One girl can bring in $250,000 a year for a trafficker. If he can get 10 yrs out of her, then he is making 2, 500,000 off of one person. Now seeing as these girls are considered product, the overhead is cheap because the traffickers aren’t spending any money to keep the girls healthy or provide them with appropriate living conditions. Therefore, it is wildly appropriate to refer to sex trafficking as slavery.
It is important to note that traffickers and victims can be of any sex, religion, age and race. The crime does not discriminate. For the purpose of this article and future articles, I will be referring to traffickers as male and victims as female as it is representative of the majority of human trafficking cases involving sexual exploitation.
Sex trafficking is the most common type of trafficking in Canada, with Ontario identified as a hub. Most recently, Sault Ste. Marie, ON was identified as a human trafficking hub as it is a border town and also because of its close proximity to the Trans Canada Highway. The Trans Canada Highway is a great way for traffickers to transport their victims from place to place. This means that there is increased potential for victims to pass through our community. It may be that they are staying overnight in a hotel and working (because they do not get nights off) or the traffickers are getting gas or food.
To the untrained eye, HT looks a lot like domestic violence. However, there are some indicators that can be identified that would raise the red flag that it is potentially a HT situation. For example, if the victim is accompanied by an older male, if she is dressed inappropriately, looks like she does not have her own money, she cannot attend the restroom without her companion, she doesn’t seem to know where she is, and she doesn’t speak for herself. If you feel that you are witnessing a potential HT situation, you can call 911, the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or your local victim services agency. We recommend that you do not get involved by attempting to challenge the potential trafficker as you would be putting yourself in a very dangerous situation.
I encourage you to do some research of your own and keep yourself current with what is happening in Ontario with regards to human trafficking. Also, if you have any questions or would like further information about HT please feel free to contact me at the office:
Wawa and Area Victim Services
Anti-Human Trafficking Resource Coordinator