Preventing Human Trafficking
By Jon Farmer
Most of us understand that slavery is wrong but we don’t all know the many forms that kind of exploitation can take. History classes, documentaries, and Oscar winning films have taught us to associate slavery with the American South and the civil war. These scenes may be the first to jump to mind but they are not a complete picture of slavery. For one, Black and Indigenous people were enslaved in Canada. For another, slavery continues today as people are exploited in various ways. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery and is taking place right now in Canada.
Human trafficking can take many forms from forced labour or unpaid work to sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation or human sex trafficking is the most common form of trafficking in Canada. The majority of people trafficked in Canada are Canadians. It is important to know that anyone can be trafficked but the risk increases with an individual’s vulnerabilities. We see that fact in the national statistics as girls, LGBTQ+ folks, and racialized people experience disproportionate rates of violence.
Violence Prevention Grey Bruce hosted a virtual forum on human trafficking on November 25th where we heard from human trafficking survivors and advocates Kaitlin Bick and Karly Church. A recording of their presentation is still available on the VPGB website and Facebook page.
We’ve written about human sex trafficking before and you can find our previous articles at www.vpgb.ca/news for a full description of the issue, warning signs, and stages of exploitation. Today we wanted to focus on opportunities to improve our collective responses and prevention.
We heard clearly at the community forum that exiting a trafficking situation is only possible when all of the trafficked person’s needs can be met. Traffickers are manipulative and systematically erode other social contacts until the trafficked person is entirely dependant on them. For the trafficking survivor, the thought of leaving without knowing where they’ll stay, how they’ll eat, or what they’ll do is terrifying. Our service systems must be prepared to meet every one of the trafficking survivor’s basic needs from food and shelter to trust and connection before asking them to leave. Fortunately, our local services and anti-trafficking committees are working to improve our collaboration and training across sectors. Improving our responses is essential but prevention is the ultimate goal.
According to Bick and Church, the two most effective things we can do to prevent trafficking is to empower young people and to make sure that everyone has a comprehensive understanding of consent. Empowered young people are more difficult to manipulate. They know where their vulnerabilities are and how to support them. They know where their boundaries are and how to assert them. An empowered young person knows that they matter and is less likely to be exploited by someone in exchange for a feeling of value or to meet their basic needs. Similarly, an empowered young person is less likely to become a trafficker if they have a healthy sense of personal value, belonging, and opportunity within their community.
Teaching about consent is also essential. During the presentations Bick and Church pointed out that ‘yes, means yes’ and ‘no, means no’ are not sufficient understandings of consent. They both described having said “yes” to things while being trafficked and believing that they had given consent despite ‘no’ not being an option. Consent needs to be clear, coherent, on going, and voluntary. With anything less than that, an interaction is assault. If someone is intoxicated, they can’t give consent. If they have been threatened, they can’t give consent. Having consented in the past does not mean that someone consents for all future interactions. Consent requires everyone to be okay with – if not ideally excited about – what is happening.
Empowerment and consent education can begin at any age. There are many resources to help parents and caring adults teach kids about consent and you don’t have to talk about sex to do it. Check out resources from healthline.com, Teaching Sexual Health.ca, and Kids Help Phone and start looking for the many age appropriate books available to introduce ideas of consent and body autonomy. As adults, we are modeling consent education from the first time we tell a child that they have to give grandma a hug goodbye or sit on their uncle’s lap even if they tell us they don’t want to. It seems simple but just by being caring, empowering, and well informed we can help vulnerable folks and young people to be safer. If we can do that, we can make safer communities for everyone.
For more information about human trafficking, visit http://violencepreventiongreybruce.com/initiatives/human-trafficking-committee/
Jon Farmer is the coordinator of Violence Prevention Grey Bruce