IBVM Canadian Province Hosts Conference on Human Trafficking

The Conference Focused on Raising Awareness and Effective Strategies to Combat Human Trafficking - March 24, 2012

It takes a nation to stop this terrible crime. Changing laws is only one piece of a national action plan to end trafficking and exploitation of women and children.- Joy Smith

A group of over 200 participants attended the IBVM sponsored “Breaking the Chains” conference on Human Trafficking held at Brennan Hall, University of St. Michael’s College on Saturday March 24th, 2012. Our keynote speaker MP Joy Smith emphasized that everyone has a part to play in ending this terrible crime. “We all need to step up and join the circle of heroes” said Smith. We’re becoming more aware of the scope and horrific reality of this crime in Canada today. Over the past few years it has become a fast growing and lucrative criminal enterprise here in Canada and abroad. Globally it is estimated that between 800,000 - 2,000,000 women and children are trafficked and sold as sex slaves each year. Illegal profits from trafficking of human beings is now estimated to amount to $ 32 billion annually.

We heard that a number of organized crime and family based networks recruit girls to trafficking in Canada. Marginalized women and girls are more at risk of being abducted or inducted. This includes girls and young women who have been previously sexually exploited, homeless youth and children in the child welfare system. Aboriginal women and girls are tragically overrepresented among the victims. Joy spoke to the importance of raising awareness about the horrific realities of Human Trafficking for the sex trade at all levels of our society. Joy shared that she become a passionate activist for this cause because of her on the ground experience with the victims.

Evanne Hunter IBVM Provincial Leader, Opening Address

Listening to the victims

Benjamin Perrin in his book “Invisible Chains“ has shown beyond any doubt that slavery exits in Canada today. The traffickers rely on our ignorance while they continue to entrap the vulnerable and destroy lives. Canadian citizens, people of the First Nations, and vulnerable adults and children from overseas have been tricked and abused into sexual exploitation and forced labor – that is the sad reality.

Educate About the Realities of Modern Day Slavery

The general public has to be educated to better understand what happens for the victims in the process of induction to the sex trade. The traffickers are methodical and deceitful in their methods. They lure girls and young women by initially offering interest, affection and all kinds of misleading promises for a better life. As the relationship progresses the violence and entrapment begins and then rapidly escalates. Persons who have been trafficked into the sex trade and other forms of domestic slavery must be seen as the victims they are. We must hear their voices and listen to their stories.

Joy Smith urges Canada to adopt the Nordic model. The Nordic or Swedish model provides support to the victims but targets the traffickers and the men who buy the services. In Canada today, there is currently no criminal provision for the consumers even though they are the ones creating the demand. Human trafficking victims desperately need our help and protection. We owe them all the support they need to regain their freedom and to rebuild their lives.

Joy Smith pointed out that cultural messages around the sex trade are often misleading and inaccurate, and as result young women may be incorrectly viewed as free and willing participants rather than as victims of a truly terrible crime. Joy pointed out that legalizing prostitution will only make the situation worse for the victims, isolating them behind the closed doors of the brothels and making it more difficult for law enforcement to intervene. The recent decision by the Ontario Court of appeal is therefore a cause for great concern. Toughening laws against Human Trafficking will not be enough if prostitution is not addressed.

Aboriginal Women at Risk

The Aboriginal Justice Inquiry concluded:

Women in our society live under constant threat of violence. The death of Betty Osborne was a brutal expression of that violence. She fell victim to vicious stereotypes born of ignorance and aggression when she was picked up by four drunken men looking for sex. Her attackers seemed to be operating on the assumption that Aboriginal women were promiscuous and open to enticement through alcohol or violence. It is evident that the men who abducted Osborne believed that young Aboriginal women were objects with no human value beyond sexual gratification. - http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volumel/chapter5.html

Diane Redsky is the Project Director, Canadian Women’s Foundation National Task Force on Human Trafficking of Girls and Young Women in Canada. Diane spoke of the vulnerabilities of many young Aboriginal women and how they may easily become targets for traffickers due to lack of adequate protection and support. Young Aboriginal women in Canadian Society are at greater risk of exploitation due to poverty, prejudice, substance abuse, isolation and lack of supports, especially when they leave the Reserve or the Child Welfare system.

Diane has 15 years experience working with exploited youth in Manitoba. She is currently working with the Canadian Women’s Foundation and Council Treaty #3 to develop a strategy in First Nation Communities to address the human trafficking of women and girls between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay. Diane explained that young Aboriginal women represent 70% of sexually exploited youth in the Province of Manitoba. Many have a history of trauma and substance abuse; 70% are in the care of Child and Family Services. Most have only been able to complete Grade seven. These young women face many challenges as they attempt to integrate into mainstream Canadian Society.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact some Provinces only extend the protection of the child welfare system to age 16 years instead of to age 18, thereby leaving a vulnerable group of 15 –18 year olds without adequate support or protection. Diane encouraged us to educate ourselves and others about human trafficking, help the heroes working on the front lines, connect with the BC Office to Combat Trafficking on-line training and follow the work of the Canadian Women’s Foundation National Task Force.

The Global Slave Trade

  • 80% of trafficking victims are women and 50% are children.
  • It is estimated that between 800,000–2,000,000 women and young children are trafficked and sold as sex slaves each year.
  • Illegal profits from trafficking of human beings is now estimated to amount to $32 billion annually.
  • This is more than the combined annual profits of Google, Nike and Starbucks combined.