By Lilianne Fuller
Human trafficking is big business. Globally, it is the second largest illegal industry worldwide and in 2019, Global Financial Integrity, an organization that tracks illicit financial flows, reported that human trafficking had earned an astounding $150 billion in global profits. In Canada, a trafficker can make between $260,000 – $280,000 per victim per year.
Human trafficking is increasing on the world stage and it is estimated that today, 20 to 40 million men, women and children are victims of this form of modern-day slavery. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any other time in modern history. 71 percent are women and girls and 29 percent are men and boys. It is estimated that 50,000 people are trafficked into the USA every year.
While Human trafficking conjures up images of countries far away with dire poverty and poor economic conditions, this practice is very entrenched in Canada – and is on the rise. Almost 93 percent of the women and girls trafficked in Canada have been born and brought up in this country. The average age of entry into the sex trade is 12-14 years of age with most victims entering the sex trade at age 14.
In developing countries, the promise of a better life is used to procure a victim. However, in Canada’s affluent society, human traffickers use different methods to groom and procure their victims. Two methods are used primarily. The Boyfriend method and online.
“Predators disguise themselves as a boyfriend and start to make their victim feel like she is the most special girl in the world. They will take the girls out to fancy restaurants, buy them new clothes, jewelry, and lavish gifts. One day, something will switch, and the trafficker will tell the girl they need to start making all the money back that he spent on her, so they can live a life together,”
“Predators disguise themselves as a boyfriend and start to make their victim feel like she is the most special girl in the world. They will take the girls out to fancy restaurants, buy them new clothes, jewelry, and lavish gifts. One day, something will switch, and the trafficker will tell the girl they need to start making all the money back that he spent on her, so they can live a life together,” says Joy Smith. Smith is the Founder and CEO of the Joy Smith Foundation, a registered charity which seeks to end human trafficking in Canada by raising awareness through education. Smith estimates that online it takes under an hour to groom a victim. “Most young people already have a strong online presence with their social media accounts. During the pandemic, there has been a 35 percent global increase of online user engagement. Even though everyone is home, and the world has stopped, the traffickers did not,” she adds.
While the majority of the victims are female, there is an increase in the number of boys being victimized. The Joy Smith Foundation was involved in a case where the victim was a nine-year-old boy servicing men. “He thought he owed his traffickers over $50,000. What nine-year-old child understands the value of $50,000? Thankfully, now he is safe and recovering,” says Smith.
Human sexual trafficking is often perceived as a women’s issue but Paige Letendre, the Executive Director of REED, Resist Exploitation Embrace Dignity, disagrees. She points out that while the majority of victims are women and girls, boys are also victimized and what all victims have in common is that 99 percent of sexual violence is committed by men. “We need to be taking a look at the collective socialization of boys and see how the ways in which we raise males contributes to a society where many believe it is within their right to buy sex. If men stopped paying for sex, sex trafficking would end,” she says.
Christians are not immune to the causes and effects of human trafficking. Joy Smith reports that this year the majority of their cases were from the Christian community. To combat this trend, the organization is using education as a tool and has created the Christian Response to Human Trafficking in Canada, a six-part video series in Bible Study format. “Included in the series are real-world testimonies from brave individuals, such as a victim, a former Grand Chief, a reformed john, and a reformed trafficker,” says Smith.
In addition, with education, advocacy is a way for Canadians to fight this scourge. “People can educate themselves on the current law we have on the books in Canada and ask the Canadian government (via their MP’s) to support the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. This Act supports women in exiting the sex trade while implementing consequences for men who buy sex,” says Letendre. Letendre adds that while this law is currently on the books, it is not implemented to the extent that it should be. Resources for advocacy can be found at www.defenddignity.ca
Thankfully, there are resources for women and girls who want to escape their bondage and exit the sex trade. REED offers a confidential referral system to assist and rescue women. In addition, the Salvation Army Deborah’s Gate program is available to assist victims. Deborah’s Gate is the first, high-security Canadian safe house and live-in program of its kind for survivors of human trafficking. Lily* a former resident said, “After I was rescued, the Deborah’s Gate program helped me stand again with confidence; I experienced physical, emotional and spiritual healing and now I am free!”
Enacted in 2010, this World Day Against Trafficking in Persons was declared by the United Nations. It is held on July 30 and is an annual event to raise awareness and increase prevention of human trafficking.
(* not her real name)
Joy Smith Foundation
204-691-2455 or 1-855-614-2532
REED Resist Exploitation – Embrace Dignity
www.embracedignity.org or 604-753-9929
Defend Dignity – Advocacy Tools
Children of the Street Society
Servants Anonymous Society