World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons helps to raise awareness of this growing epidemic in the hopes to one day end it. This year’s theme is “reach every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind.” Global crises, conflicts, climate emergency, and COVID have all escalated trafficking risks and have negatively impacted the detection of trafficking crimes.


Of the thousands of young people who find safety at Covenant House:

  • 20% are survivors of human trafficking in the U.S. and Canada
  • 31% of our shelter residents in the U.S. and Canada who identify as LGBTQ+ have experienced trafficking
  • Sex and labour trafficking are the two dominant forms of human trafficking in Canada
  • 50% of trafficked girls and 51% of trafficked women were Indigenous
  • transgender and gender non-conforming individuals represents 2% of all victims/survivors despite comprising 0.24% of the Canadian population

Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking

In 2020, Covenant House Vancouver initiated a 32-month project to develop and implement intervention practices that will advance knowledge and enhance empowerment supports for youth age 16 to 24 at risk of, or survivors of, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, in Vancouver.

Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Traffickingwas developed as an anti-human trafficking toolkit to support CHV staff and partner organizations in serving youth at risk of, currently experiencing, or those who have survived human trafficking and/or exploitation.   

Today’s post will focus on staff who engage with youth. Many youth who are at risk of, or experiencing, trafficking do not identify with terms like “trafficked” to define their experience. Increased staff awareness allows for targeted support, without the onus placed on youth to self-identify with their experience.

Who Is Most Vulnerable?

Trafficking, like any other crime, can affect anyone. Nevertheless, people of colour and 2SLGBTQAI+ people are more likely to experience trafficking than any other demographic. Certain vulnerabilities like generational trauma, historical oppression, discrimination, and other societal factors and inequities, escalate the instances of trafficking. Traffickers recognize and take advantage of these vulnerabilities in people.

Some of the risk factors for people who are vulnerable to trafficking are:

  • Unstable living situation
  • Previous exposure to other forms of violence
  • Undocumented immigrants
  • Facing poverty or economic need
  • Substance use disorder

Recognizing Labour Trafficking

Someone may be experiencing labour trafficking or exploitation if they:

  • Feel pressured by their employer to stay in a job or situation they want to leave
  • Do not have control of their passport or other identifying documents
  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm
  • Are living in dangerous, overcrowded, or inhumane conditions, provided by an employer

Recognizing Sex Trafficking

Someone may be experiencing sex trafficking if they:

  • Want to stop participating in commercial sex, but feel scared or unable to leave the situation
  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.

Questions to Identify Trafficked Youth

It is best not to interview for facts (dates, times, places, names), unless you are a designated interviewer (police officer etc.). It is also recommended that you let the person tell their story in their own way — do not overwhelm them with direct questions. That said, you may need to ask a few questions to help someone tells their story, which could help reveal the signs of human trafficking.

Here are just a few examples of how you can phrase questions to help you determine if a person is being trafficked:


  • Where do you come from?
  • How did you get here (to this city/town)?
  • Did anyone help you get here, by driving you or paying your fare?
  • Where do you live?
  • Where is your family?
  • Are you in contact with them?
  • Do you have a doctor or dentist?
  • What is your daily schedule like?
  • Are you free to do things independently — go to the store, visit a doctor?
  • Have you or your family ever been threatened?
  • Do you have access to your birth certificate or student card/identification?

Living Conditions:

  • Do you pay rent?
  • Where do you sleep and eat?
  • Is it a private room?
  • Do you feel safe where you live?


  • Do you owe anyone money?
  • For what do you owe this money?


  • How did you meet your partner?
  • Have you ever felt like you had to do something even though you did not want to?
  • Are there any rules you must follow?
  • Have you ever traded a sexual act for something in return?

Through interactions with youth, there are several ways that disclosure about being trafficked can occur:

  • Discovery — Staff may recognize the signs and symptoms of trafficking.
  • Accidental — Often when this happens, someone is not completely ready to tell and great care is needed to help the individual, so that the disclosure is not forced.
  • On Purpose — The youth may tell someone (peer group, intake worker etc.) about their experience. Sometimes youth tell someone to prevent someone else from being trafficked, or as a way to get back at the trafficker.
  • Through a Process of Personal Healing — When a youth has entered a healing process and can feel safe enough to disclose the long-held secret that they have been trafficked.

When a youth discloses their experience of trafficking:

  • Reassure them that it is okay to tell what happened
  • Project a calm, understanding, and supportive attitude towards them
  • Avoid having the youth repeat their explanation to different members of the support team
  • Reassure the youth that it is not their fault
  • During and after reporting, it is important to maintain a supportive presence for the youth
  • Follow the guidance of the youth for any next steps.
  • Offer resources both within and outside of the legal system.

For more information about what has been presented here, Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking is available in English and French, and can be downloaded as a PDF.

Stay tuned for future posts that feature this toolkit.