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International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Today is International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

It is estimated that almost one in three women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both, at least once in their lives.

In general terms, violence against women and girls manifests itself in physical, sexual and psychological forms that include intimate partner violence, sexual violence and harassment, child marriage, and human trafficking.

Although gender-based violence can happen to anyone, certain demographics of women and girls are at a higher risk. These include young girls; older women; women who identify as lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex; migrants and refugees; indigenous women and ethnic minorities; women or girls living with HIV, disabilities, and those living through humanitarian crises.

Today marks the launch of the UNiTE campaign, that began in 2008, and “… aims to prevent and eliminate violence against women and girls around the world, calling for global action to increase awareness, promote advocacy and create opportunities for discussion on challenges and solutions.”

What Does Human Trafficking look like in Canada?

It’s important tonote that 90% of trafficking in Canada is domestic trafficking which means that it is the trafficking of people already in Canada. The trafficked person may be a citizen, permanent resident, visitor, temporary worker, or student.

Human trafficking involves the recruiting, harbouring and/or controlling of a person for the purpose of exploitation — most commonly in Canada for labour and/or sexual exploitation. It is often described as a modern form of slavery.

Canadian statistics on domestic trafficking show the following trends:

  • Human trafficking often occurs in large urban centres and communities.
  • A greater number of those who have been trafficked are women, whereas the traffickers are predominantly male.
  • In BC, men/boys were found to be trafficked more often as compared to other Canadian provinces.
  • Nearly 50% of the victims of human trafficking were Indigenous women.
  • Men who identify as gay, bisexual, or transgender are more likely to be exploited through sex trafficking than males who identify as straight.

Human trafficking database entries in 2021–2022, about youth who used Covenant House Vancouver’s services, reflected the following trends:

  • 61% woman/girl, 22% man/boy, and 17% trans and gender diverse youth
  • 41% 2SLGBTQAI+
  • 41% Caucasian, 39% Indigenous, and 21% BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour)
  • 86% Canadian citizens, 12% newcomers

Constructing an accurate picture of the number of Indigenous women and girls who have been trafficked is difficult. This is due to the risk of criminalization, discrimination, and violence, which resulted in many people feeling unsafe reporting information about their involvement. In addition, an unwillingness and lack of effort on the part of many institutions that could help to keep more accurate records about Indigenous women and girls contributed to this lack of information.

It has consistently been reported by organizations working to advocate on behalf of sex worker rights, and those working to address sexual exploitation and trafficking that Indigenous women, girls, and people make up the majority of those involved in the street-level sex work. They are also more likely than other groups to be targeted for, or to experience, sexual exploitation, or trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation.

Indigenous women and girls make up only 4% of Canada’s population, but 50% of human trafficking survivors.

For more information on the impact of colonization and human trafficking on Indigenous women and girls please read the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls and Red Women Rising reports.

What Are some of the Warning Signs of Potential Trafficking?

  • People may be vulnerable to trafficking if they have these risk factors:
  • Unstable living situation.
  • Previous exposure to other forms of violence such as sexual abuse or domestic violence.
  • Previous experience in care (i.e. Ministry of Children and Family Development, in BC).
  • Previous experience with the Criminal Justice System.
  • Are undocumented immigrants.
  • Are facing poverty or economic need.
  • Have a caregiver or family member who has a substance use issue.
  • Experience 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.
  • Owe money to an employer or recruiter or are not being paid what they were promised or are owed.
  • Do not have control of their passport or other identifying documents.
  • Are living and working in isolated conditions, largely cut off from interactions with others or support systems.
  • Appear to be monitored by another person when talking or interacting others.
  • Are being threatened by their boss with deportation or other harm.
  • Are working in dangerous conditions without proper safety gear, training, adequate breaks, or other protections.
  • 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.
  • Disclose that they were reluctant to engage in commercial sex, but that someone pressured them into it.
  • Live where they work or are transported by guards between home and workplace.
  • Have a “pimp” or “manager” in the commercial sex industry.
  • Have a controlling parent, guardian, romantic partner, or “sponsor” who will not allow them to meet or speak with anyone alone, or who monitors their movements, spending, or communications.

What Can we do to help Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls?

Aura Freedom: “Gender-based violence is a result of extreme inequities that intersect with different identities. It is a very old story of who is valued more and who is valued less. The antidote…is education. 

Education that addresses root causes is the key to preventing and eradicating gender-based violence and human trafficking in Canada. And although we might not be able to ‘see’ it working in real-time…it is right. The ripple effects of that education will be seen for generations to come.”

Violence against women and girls is a systemic and human rights violation and, therefore, needs a human rights and systemic solution to address it. If we address gender gaps in employment, wages, access to education, etc. then we are addressing gender-based violence.

There are many resources available to help educate the community on how we must all work together to stop violence against women and girls.

If you’d like to understand more about human trafficking and ways to help someone exit trafficking, CHV has created a toolkit that addresses human trafficking. Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking was 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.   

The toolkit is intended to be used in learning about human trafficking and evidence-based best practices for supporting youth within the current Canadian landscape. The intended audience is service providers in youth-serving organizations, including CHV and partners.