Trafficking of underage girls and boys is child abuse, yet it happens on a daily basis in Canada.
Many people may witness sex trafficking happening, but in order to recognize it, we need to understand the complexities of it. When we don’t have a clear idea of what sex trafficking is or how it happens to youth, it deters our ability to respond to this crime. As such, here is a list of misconceptions regarding sex trafficking of minors and what the real facts are.
#1: It only happens to oppressed youth.
Fact: Sexual exploitation and trafficking can (and does) happen to any youth, regardless of their age, ability, ethnicity, gender, religion, family income/class, or sexual orientation.
#2: It only happens in foreign countries.
Fact: It may be shocking but child/youth sexual exploitation and trafficking does happen in Canada. In 2014, the RCMP Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre reported that 93% of Canada’s trafficking victims come from Canada. Some of the incidences of sexual exploitation and trafficking of youth in the 2014 year included cases from: Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Alberta, and cases across the country.
#3: It’s a one-time incident.
Fact: Sexual exploitation and trafficking is an ongoing cycle of physical, emotional and psychological abuse. In many aspects of this issue, exploiters take several months (up to a year or two) to groom the youth victim before the exploitation begins. Victims can be exploited / trafficked sexually for years at a time.
#4: Traffickers and exploiters are always adult males.
Fact: While many of them are adult males, there have been many cases of exploiters and traffickers that have been females (specifically females exploiting younger females), as well as the increasing incidences of peer-to-peer exploitation. Some examples? In Ontario, we have a recent case of an 18 year old girl running a teen trafficking ring. In British Columbia, an 18 year old male was charged for trafficking other teens across the Lower Mainland. And in Alberta, there was a case of a 31 year old woman exploiting an 18 year old female. There is not a stereotypical image of an exploiter, and interestingly enough, exploiters and traffickers are just as diverse as their victims.
#5: Drug and alcohol addiction is always a factor.
Fact: Youth without addictions are not immune to becoming victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking. Conversely, having an addiction doesn’t mean the youth will become a victim. However, drugs and alcohol are widely used by traffickers and exploiters to keep their victims under their control.
#6: It’s easy to exit, or get out of it.
Fact: Not all sexually exploited/trafficked youth see themselves as being a victim. Most exploiters use verbal and physical threats to ensure their victims do not leave the situation. In the case of BC’s first trafficking of minors conviction with Reza Moazami, witnesses testified that he would threaten to go after their families if they tried to leave. Because victims are groomed for a long time, the exploiter manipulates the victims into thinking they are in a relationship and uses guilt to keep them entrenched.
#7: Forced prostitution of minors is the only form of sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Fact: There are many ways children and youth can be sexually exploited and trafficked. Some of the most common include being:
– Lured by online predators
– Exploited by traffickers whether it’s indoors or on the streets
– Victimized by child sexual abuse images/videos (i.e. sexting)
Unfortunately, much of sexual exploitation and trafficking is not properly identified. While there are many issues that are related to this topic (such as bullying), sexual exploitation and trafficking incidences are far more serious, and are illegal under the Canadian Criminal Code.
#8: It’s the youth’s fault.
Fact: Exploiters and traffickers target youth because of their vulnerability and lack of life experience. Victims are often manipulated for months at a time by exploiters and traffickers. They use everything from giving them extra attention, false affection, gifting, isolating youth from their friends/families to introducing new lifestyles to the youth (drugs, alcohol, etc.). We can all think back to when we were teenagers to remember how our mindset was—we thought we knew everything! The important thing to remember about supporting youth who have been victimized, is that they are not at fault. By showing empathy and no prejudgement, youth will feel more encouraged to come forward with cases and will also respond better when being helped