What comes to mind when you think of the signs of human trafficking? Perhaps it’s international border smuggling or forced organ harvesting abroad. Or, it’s possible you didn’t realize human trafficking happens in Canada, or don’t believe it could exist in your community.
Unfortunately, human trafficking is more prevalent in Canada than most people realize — but it remains a relatively invisible issue to those not directly involved. According to a recent survey conducted for The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking (The Centre), 73 per cent of Canadians are concerned that human trafficking is an issue in our country — yet many of us don’t know the signs of human trafficking to look for, or what we can do to help.
To help us learn more about the causes and the signs of human trafficking, we spoke to Julie Drydyk, Executive Director of The Centre, about this very real issue that is happening all across our country, everyday.
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What is human trafficking in Canada?
“The business of human trafficking is often characterised as a ‘low risk/high reward activity’ because the crime is difficult for law enforcement to detect and investigate, and because there are such high profits associated with trafficking,” says Drydyk.
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery, which became a criminal offence in Canada as recently as 2005. Traffickers are often friends, current or former partners, co-workers, bosses or even family members. These human traffickers coerce, trick or manipulate their victims, and then maintain control over them with threats, isolation, or psychological or physical abuse.
According to The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking’s Human Trafficking Trends in Canada (2019-2020) report, the most common types of human trafficking in Canada are sex trafficking (71 per cent) and labour trafficking (7 per cent). The remaining types of human trafficking involve forced begging, fraud and other unspecified forms. Sex trafficking is a largely gender-based crime, with the report finding that 90 per cent of sex trafficking victims and survivors in Canada are women and girls.
It’s not always easy to see signs of human trafficking, but friends and family play a critical role in supporting victims and preventing these heinous crimes. “Human trafficking is not what you’ve seen in popular movies. It is happening in communities across Canada, and it’s tearing lives apart through violence and exploitation,” says Drydyk.
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“Traffickers have mastered the process of luring, grooming and psychologically abusing women and girls for their own gain, and they exploit our lack of awareness to perpetuate this gross act of exploitation,” says Drydyk.
Victims of sex trafficking are forced to engage in many different types of sexual acts, such as escort services, illicit massage, outdoor solicitation, residential sex trafficking, pornography, remote interactive sexual acts and personal sexual servitude.
A trafficker’s goal is to exploit victims, make as much money as possible and remain invisible to law enforcement. Drydyk explains, “Unlike the sale of drugs or guns, human beings can be sold over and over for the financial or material benefit of the traffickers, making this crime extremely lucrative.”
Who is being targeted?
While sex trafficking can happen to anyone, some people are targeted more than others. Marginalized populations in Canada — such as Black and Indigenous women and girls, homeless youth, members of the 2SLGBTQI+ community and temporary foreign workers — are disproportionately overrepresented as victims and survivors of human trafficking.
According to the International Labour Organization, it is estimated that 24.9 million people are in a situation of forced labour. Temporary foreign workers are at higher risk of being trafficked and are easily exploited due to language barriers, fear that their employers will let their work permits expire and a lack of economic alternatives in their home countries. Often their documentation is taken from them and they are forced to work long hours, under unacceptable conditions, for little pay — and deportation is often used as a threat.
Industries often involved in labour trafficking may include agriculture and farming (farm hands, seasonal workers), domestic services (child and elder care, housekeeping services), hospitality (hotel housekeeping, restaurant kitchen work), construction and resource extraction (mining) and cleaning and beauty services (commercial cleaning and nail salons).
While foreign nationals are extremely vulnerable to labour trafficking, forced labour also occurs in vulnerable domestic populations in Canada, such as those experiencing homelessness, precarious housing and poverty, as well as individuals with physical or learning disabilities, mental health issues or substance abuse problems.
Know the signs of human trafficking
Knowing the signs of human trafficking is vital in order to help victims. “While no single indicator proves that someone is being trafficked, a combination of these signs should raise red flags,” Drydyk explains. Here are some of the signs of human trafficking to look for:
- Sudden changes in behaviour. This could refer to someone acting in a fearful, anxious, submissive or nervous manner; being excessively concerned about displeasing a partner; appearing to be controlled by someone else; becoming isolated from friends and family; or avoiding eye contact and/or letting someone else speak for them.
- Appearance seems out of place. This could refer to someone who is dressed inappropriately for their age, has cuts or bruises or is branded/tattooed.
- Strange possessions. This could refer to someone with unexplained expensive gifts, multiple cell phones, excess cash or living outside financial means. This could also mean someone with no access to identification, their own money or their own cell phone.
- Hard to reach. This could refer to someone who disappears for long periods of time and rarely responds to texts and phone calls.
What you can do to help
The Centre encourages Canadians to initiate change by learning more about human trafficking via its website, by knowing the signs and trusting your gut and, finally, by calling the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline (1-833-900-1010), which is a confidential, multi-lingual service that is available 24/7, when needed.
Drydyk reminds us to trust our instincts, “Even if you aren’t completely sure that what you are noticing is human trafficking, you are encouraged to call [the hotline].” The website also offers the option of leaving an anonymous tip or contacting a Hotline Response Advocate via its web chat feature.
In order to help potential victims seek help when needed, Drydyk says, “We need to make sure that the Hotline’s number has enough visibility in our community.” She continues, “You can use your platform to raise awareness about human trafficking among your employees, partners, clients and service providers.”
It is so important for all of us, as Canadians, to join efforts to combat this crime, because, as Drydyk reminds us, “No one is immune to human trafficking.”