Human Sex Trafficking: Canada's Hidden Crime

It's something we think only happens in far away places and developing countries. A booming black market industry, earning $32 billion dollars annually, more than the worth of Google, Starbucks and Nike combined. Human trafficking for the purposes of selling sexual acts, also known as sexual terrorism, is the use of illicit sex, violence and threats to intimidate or coerce to the state of fear and submission. It's a problem worldwide, but it is becoming more widespread in North America, especially in Canada.

"Human trafficking" is the buying and selling of human beings; it is a modernized term for slavery. According to Anti-Slavery International and the US Department of State's 2005 Trafficking In Persons Report, there are approximately 27 million people worldwide presently enslaved: 80 percent are women and 50 percent are children. It's quickly becoming a well-hidden organized crime in Canada.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police report that 800 to 1200 people are trafficked in and through Canada every year. In 2002, the government passed legislation in response to the growing problem. Section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) was enacted which recognized the trafficking of persons, stating that no person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force or coercion. Since this law was enacted, there have been 25 convictions. Later, in 2004, the government passed Bill C-49, which officially recognized human trafficking as a crime in Canada. This was an important step in the right direction, but according to MP Joy Smith and organizations dedicated to helping victims, many of the victims aren't from foreign countries. Many of them are Canadian citizens and native women, forced into sexual slavery. Western demand continues to drive this illegal industry. Traffickers operate in massage parlours and strip clubs and are advertised widely on the internet and websites like Craig's List.

The sentence in Canada for human trafficking is a prison term of up to 14 years, although most perpetrators spend less than three years in custody. There are no mandatory minimum sentences and the penalties are more like a simple slap on the wrist. In the United States, traffickers face 20-year sentences, and even in places like India the punishment is a minimum of 10 years. Because of our lax criminal justice system, human traffickers are finding Canada an easy target to grow their business and victimize young women at home and abroad.

One victim who could not be identified said that being forced to be a human sexual slave was like domestic violence, kidnapping and rape, experienced repeatedly on a daily basis. It is a harrowing experience that most victims cannot easily escape. In July 2009, Canada got a startling wake up call when law enforcement and Craigslist announced they were working together to stop human sex trafficking. The problem had a disproportionate affect on Canada's youth, with some young girls as young as 15 enslaved, and numbers spiking in Canadian cities. Parents and members of the public were issued a warning in the media by North Vancouver RCMP, for example, informing them that small groups of traffickers were encouraging and procuring young teens to prostitute themselves online. Winnipeg, Manitoba continues to be a major haven of sex-trafficking in Canada, according to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs representing aboriginal women and children.

Young aborginal girls are especially vulnerable and are trafficked from their reserves to Canadian and US cities. These victims are not mere numbers and statistics: they are wives, mothers and daughters. They suffer horrific mental, physical and sexual abuse during their captivity.

And yet Canada has only seen one conviction of child trafficking, although there are many more cases before the courts. The offender recieved only a 3-year sentence for trafficking a 15 year-old girl, and was credited for his time spent in custody. In 2 years he had made over $350,000 by daily selling her for sex. He spent less time in jail for his crime than he did exploiting this young girl.

Bill C-268 is a private members bill that is awaiting second reading when Parliament re-opens on March 3rd. It's goal is to have the criminal code amended and to enact a mandatory minimum sentence of at least 5-years for child trafficking. MP Joy Smith believes that Canada must send a message to the rest of the country and the world that human slavery is entirely unacceptable. We as a society need to stand up for our women and children and denounce the horrendous and horrific crime occurring within our own cities and borders.

There are several websites and organizations available to promote awareness and education to help stop trafficking. Each of us in our own countries should take a few minutes of our time and find out how we can help put an end to human slavery. Since human trafficking entails moving people throughout the world, each of us has a responsibility to do what we can to help. It could mean getting more educated, joining an organization or campaign, and writing to your members of government. One of the biggest struggles is with the victims. They will require immediate and long-term help and cannot do so without funding and assistance. You can donate your time or funds to an agency that is doing this vital work.

For more information, visit some of these sites and surf the links.

www.humantrafficking.ca

http://www.humantrafficking.org/

http://www.notforsalecampaign.org/

http://www.polarisproject.org/

http://www.slaverymap.ca/

Erika Klein is an author and freelance writer who spent many years serving the community through volunteer work, board of directorships and performing media work and public education. Self-taught and a survivor of Canada's child welfare system, she spends most of her time championing and furthering the human rights for those who are vulnerable and at risk. She's also the proud mother of a lovely daughter.