Human Trafficking: Canada’s Invisible Crime  

As we commemorate International Women’s Day, it’s essential to recognize and address the hidden, but pervasive, issue of human trafficking, because most police-reported incidents in Canada, have involved young women and girls. Too often people ignore this issue thinking that it only happens across borders and to people they do not know, let alone in Canada and in our communities close to home. 

Human trafficking touches all aspects of Canadian life from the economically diverse urban centres, to rural communities and the trade and transportation routes where some trafficking takes place.  
Today, we’re shining a light on the stories of individuals like Maya, who have been impacted by this crime, and we’re calling on you to join us in taking action. 
Meet Maya: a Survivor’s Story 
Maya’s vulnerability began when she moved to a new city and started at a new school. She had a hard time making friends, and every day, she felt more isolated and invisible. All she wanted was to fit in and be seen.  

Feeling unwelcomed and misunderstood, Maya* sought solace online. She met Sarah, an older, and seemingly cool and popular, high schooler who went to a neighbouring school. Sarah and Maya spent a lot of time hanging out together. They went to the mall, visited parks, and texted constantly. Maya was so grateful that Sarah took her under her wing and was so grateful that she had made a friend who seemed to understand her and see her for who she was.  

Sarah started inviting Maya to parties and introduced her to new people. As time went on, Sarah guilted Maya into doing things that she’d never done before, and that made her feel anxious and uncomfortable; things like drinking, doing drugs, and having sex with strangers. Maya felt apprehensive and had a pit in her stomach every time she did these things, but she continued to do everything that Sarah asked, because Maya wanted to impress Sarah and didn’t want to jeopardize their friendship. 
Sarah always reassured Maya that she was doing the right thing and that this would become her new norm, especially if she wanted to continue to hang out with Sarah and her friends. Maya found herself coerced and manipulated into situations that she never imagined. She became a victim of human trafficking, and was forced into exploitation. 

Despite her dire situation, Maya’s resilience shined through. She struggled to find ways to escape Sarah and her traffickers, even though she often felt isolated and afraid. She yearned for someone to notice her distress and offer her help and support. 

Maya’s journey was one of courage and perseverance as she fought to reclaim her freedom and rebuild her life. With the support of organizations dedicated to combating human trafficking, Maya found the strength to break free from her traffickers and pursue her dreams, once again. She has become an advocate for other survivors, and now uses her voice to raise awareness and prevent others from falling victim to the same fate. 

Understanding the Issue  
Human trafficking knows no boundaries, and affects individuals of all ages, genders, and backgrounds. However, young women and girls are disproportionately affected by this modern-day slavery, and face exploitation and abuse in various forms. According to the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, an estimated 1,200-1,500 people are trafficked in Canada every year, with the majority being women and girls. 

Shockingly, from 2010 to 2020, 96% of detected victims were women and girls, with 69% under 25. Indigenous women, girls, and Two-Spirit individuals are particularly vulnerable to this exploitation. 

The Reality of Trafficking  
Trafficking takes place when a person is being controlled, manipulated, and exploited for the trafficker’s personal gain. Often, trafficking is carried out by someone that you know and trust and, in Canada is either usually sexual exploitation or forced labour, and usually involves some form of coercion. 

While traffickers recruit from all areas and backgrounds, studies have shown that victims are often marginalized, and are facing intersecting challenges such as homelessness, poverty, substance abuse, and gender-based violence.  

Traffickers look for people with vulnerabilities in their lives that the trafficker can exploit and manipulate, by temporarily filling these voids to lure their victims in. Vulnerability traits could include: 

  • people with low self-esteem 
  • people with problems at home 
  • those with housing precarity, or those who are homelessness 
  • those who live in poverty 
  • people with mental health issues 
  • people with substance use issues 

People don’t choose to be trafficked. Traffickers often exploit trust, and recruit victims through acquaintances, partners, or even family members. They may use tactics like “love bombing” (where they buy expensive gifts, fancy dinners, or make promises of a better future together) and isolation to build the youth’s reliance on them.  

Our Call to Action  
But there’s hope. This International Women’s Day, you can make a tangible difference by joining us in the fight against human trafficking. Thanks to a generous donor, every dollar that you donate today will be matched, up to $15,000! Together, we can create a world where every woman and girl are free to live a life of dignity and opportunity. Double your impact today by donating to our cause. 

Your contribution will provide critical resources and support to survivors, and those trying to exit trafficking, that include safe housing, trauma-informed counselling, and advocacy for policies that prevent trafficking and keep youth, like Maya, safe. 
While financial contributions are important, the call to action goes beyond that. It is also about educating yourself and creating an awareness around this issue. It is about having a conversation about human trafficking with your kids, your family, your social circles, and your networks. It is also about advocating for policy changes that bring human trafficking to the forefront, and bring about the elimination of systemic issues that allow this practice to continue. 
If you are in immediate danger, or see someone who is, call 9-1-1. 

The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is a tool for learning about and reporting human trafficking. You can call the Hotline 24/7, 365 days a year at 1-833-900-1010. The Hotline is completely confidential, and you can remain anonymous if you wish. 

The Centre has just released It’s Time to T.A.L.K. digital toolkit that addresses sex trafficking. The acronym T.A.L.K. stands for: T — teach yourself about the issue; A — approach the conversation with care; L — listen and adapt; and K — know there is help. 

Covenant House Vancouver has also released its digital toolkit, intended for service providers in youth-serving organizations. Pivoting Practice: Building Capacity to Serve Youth Impacted by Trafficking is intended to be used in learning about human trafficking and evidence-based best practices for supporting youth within the current Canadian landscape. 

Thank you for standing with us in the fight against human trafficking. 

*Maya’s story is not the story of a specific youth, but is a composite of many different youth stories.