In Canada, Aboriginal women are most vulnerable to being exploited.
by Jody Dallaire
The Whistleblower is a 2010 made-for-TV movie dramatizing one real-life investigator’s efforts to stop human trafficking in a war zone. Rachel Weisz stars as Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer who served as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia and who exposed how the United Nations was involved in covering up human trafficking and the exploitation of women.
The film (partly funded by Ontario) is very moving and well done, although it is tough to watch at times. After watching it, I decided to find out more about the prevalence of human trafficking in Canada – and yes, it does happen here. Although not all victims of human trafficking are female, the vast majority are.
In Canada, human trafficking is a criminal act. The RCMP defines human trafficking as the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation (typically people are trafficked in the sex industry or for forced labour). Does this description sound familiar? It should. It is quite similar to the description of slavery.
Some non-governmental organizations have placed the estimated number of victims in Canada as high as 15,000 victims per year. Ninety percent of charges for human trafficking in Canada are for domestic trafficking.
The first step in combating this form of exploitation is understanding the extent of the problem. Unfortunately, there are no reliable data in Canada on how prevalent human trafficking is, according to a study conducted by the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. The RCMP estimated in 2004 that between 800 and 1,200 people became the victims of human trafficking each year, but has since admitted that it does not have a clear handle on the problem and no longer provides estimates. Some non-governmental organizations have placed the estimated number of victims in Canada as high as 15,000 victims per year.
There are two types of human trafficking: international, where victims are trafficked from one country to another, and domestic, where victims are recruited from within the country and then remain in the same country. In Canada, 90 percent of charges laid for human trafficking are for the latter form, domestic trafficking.
A Vancouver study found that 52 percent of female prostitutes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were Aboriginal, whereas they represent only 7 per cent of Vancouver’s population.
Why does human trafficking exist? In short, profit. One estimate says that a trafficker can make between $13,000 and $67,200 per year per victim, because customers are will to pay money for her sexual services.
Exploiting women and girls is profitable because of the demand for sexual services. A 2010 study on the buyers of sex was released by Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The Johns Voice study is quite comprehensive and sympathetic to the johns, involving more than 1,200 surveys and more than 800 interviews with “johns.” Among the study's conclusions:
83 percent of johns are born in Canada;
70 percent of johns are Caucasian males;
70 percent of johns completed university or college;
70 percent of johns earn over $50,000/year (40 percent earn over $80,000);
Their average age is between 38 – 42 years;
On average, each john has purchased sex 100 times during their lifetime.
In 2010, Rosella Melanson, former Executive Director of the New Brunswick Advisory Council on the Status of Women, visited Sweden to review how the country has been working to eradicate the sexual exploitation of women. Although the Swedish method is perhaps unlikely to be adopted in Canada, it's aroused global interest just the same. The Swedish approach is to treat the sex trade as violence against women, and to charge, prosecute and perhaps fine customers who attempt to purchase sex.
Since the 1999 law, Sweden has seen a steady reduction in organized crime and human trafficking rates. In 2010, it was the only country in Europe without an increase in the rates of human trafficking and prostitution.
This approach reflects the Swedish determination that women should be equal to men in all areas, including personal safety and sexual satisfaction. Hence the Swedies approach the sexual exploitation of women not on the basis of sexual morality, but on the basis of practical concerns for their safety and that of other women whom johns might approach by mistake.
The Swedish law, adopted in 1999, has led to concrete results. Sweden has seen a steady reduction in organized crime and human trafficking rates. In 2010, it was the only country in Europe without an increase in the rates of human trafficking and prostitution.
Several organizations in Canada are working to raise awareness about human trafficking. One example is the Canadian Women’s Foundation, an organization that is committed to working towards giving women and girls in Canada a chance for a better life. Another example is the New Brunswick Working Group on Human Trafficking, composed of members of the community, various government departments and law enforcement agencies.
Let's all hope that our governments (municipal, provincial and federal) will listen to these groups’ recommendations and adopt public policy initiatives to end the trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation.© Copyright 2013 Jody Dallaire, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca