Empowering Through Choice: Addressing Human Trafficking and Gender Equity 

Directly behind International Women’s Day and as we reflect on the progress made towards gender equity, it’s crucial to acknowledge the intersecting challenges faced by young women, girls, and gender diverse individuals.  

Statistically, these groups are more likely to fall victim to human trafficking, especially when layered in with experiences such as homelessness, problems at home, poverty, mental health issues, substance use, and low self-esteem. At Covenant House Vancouver, we recognize the urgent need to support and empower these populations, providing them with the resources and opportunities they need to thrive. 

We know that young women and gender diverse youth facing homelessness often encounter traditional shelter systems that aren’t gender diverse and fail to address their specific needs, leaving them feeling very unsafe and isolated, susceptible to exploitation, including human trafficking. Female and gender diverse youth and underrepresented in homeless counts oftentimes putting themselves in dangerous and precarious situations in exchange for shelter. The correlation between housing instability and trafficking underscores the importance of comprehensive support tailored to address the vulnerabilities faced by these individuals.

Our Approach in Action 
In response to these challenges, Covenant House Vancouver has adopted a gender-responsive approach, creating self-identified gender-specific spaces and providing tailored support to mitigate the risk of exploitation and trafficking. By prioritizing safety, choice, and empowerment, we equip young women and gender diverse youth with the tools they need to navigate their paths towards stability and self-fulfillment. 

This includes curating concrete safety planning and protocols in conjunction with the youth we serve. They know their situation best, so we work with them to co-create plans that help empower these individuals to help ensure their safety in dangerous situations. Part of the goal is really to give these young women and gender diverse youth their power back. It is the very removal of power that has allowed someone else to have control over their life, so giving them a choice and the opportunity to be a part of safety planning with us places the autonomy and control over their life, back in their hands. 

Fostering Autonomy and Dignity 
At the core of our work lies the belief that every individual deserves to be seen, heard, and valued. Upon their arrival at Covenant House, one of the fundamental principles we uphold is the opportunity for young people to exercise choice. For those who have faced trauma and crisis in their environments, the journey to our doors can be fraught with uncertainty and vulnerability. We recognize the importance of allowing individuals to arrive exactly as they are, without judgment or expectation. 

In our space, we provide a platform for young people to reclaim agency over their lives. This begins with the simple yet profound act of choosing how they wish to present themselves and engage with our services. Whether it’s deciding how to share personal information or accessing support, every decision is respected and honored. 

Throughout their journey at Covenant House, our case management system is built upon the foundation of choice. Social workers collaborate closely with young people, allowing them to shape their own plans and set goals that are meaningful to them. This sense of ownership empowers individuals to take charge of their futures and pursue paths that align with their aspirations. 

In a world that often seeks to diminish their worth, we affirm the inherent value of every young person who walks through our doors. Despite the messages of inadequacy they may have internalized, we believe in their potential and the transformative power of choice. By providing opportunities for autonomy and self-determination, we challenge the narrative that they are unworthy or undeserving. 

Navigating Crisis: Meet Alex the Survivor 
Alex comes from a tight-knit family with immigrant roots, and his parents work hard to provide for their children. Alex is an outgoing and sociable teenager who enjoys playing soccer with their friends and volunteering at their local community center. They have a passion for technology and dreamt of pursuing a career in computer science. 

Alex’s life takes a dark turn when they meet someone online who promises them a lucrative job opportunity in the tech industry. Excited by the prospect of financial independence and eager to help support their family, Alex agrees to meet in person. 

However, the meeting doesn’t go as planned, and Alex soon realizes they have been deceived. Instead of a legitimate job offer, they find themself coerced into a world of exploitation and forced labor. They are manipulated by their traffickers, who threaten him and exploit his vulnerabilities. 

Feeling scared and isolated, Alex struggled to find a way out of their situation. They longed to reach out their family for help but feared the repercussions of speaking out. Despite the challenges they faced, Alex’s determination to survive and protect their loved ones kept them going. 

Through a stroke of luck and with the help of law enforcement, Alex managed to escape their traffickers and eventually reunited with their family. However, the trauma of their experience lingers, and they find it difficult to trust others or open up about what happened. 

With the support of counsellors and advocates specializing in youth trafficking, Alex begins the journey toward healing and recovery. They use their experience to raise awareness about the dangers of online exploitation and becomes an advocate for other young people who have been trafficked, using his voice to speak out against human trafficking and fight for justice. 

Moving Forward 
As we move forward from International Women’s Day, we invite you to join us in our mission to support and empower young women, girls, and gender diverse youth. A generous donor has recognized the importance of this work and has offered to match all donations, up to $15,000, until March 18th. Your contribution will provide critical resources and support, including safe housing, trauma-informed counselling, and advocacy for policies that prevent trafficking and keep youth like Alex safe. Double your impact and help twice the youth today.

While financial contributions are important, it goes beyond that. It is about educating yourself and creating an awareness around this issue. It is about having conversation about human trafficking with your kids, your families, in your social circles, and among your networks. It is also about advocating for policy changes that bring human trafficking to the forefront of and 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 at1-833-900-1010. 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 this crucial mission.