human trafficking is closer than you think

In this week’s Prairie Messenger, James Buchok of Winnipeg has written an eye-opening article about human trafficking in our own back-yard.  We tend to think this is mostly a third-world problem, but it happens here in Canada. While it is a danger for all at-risk youth, aboriginal woman are especially at risk. Once these women are lured into the sex trade, they become ‘invisible’, often going missing. Too many end up as yet another murder victim.

How does a young person get caught up in this web of abuse and exploitation? Donovan Fontaine, Chief of Sagkeeng First Nation describes how young people leave First Nations for opportunities in the city. They leave, “for what we all want, a better life. They have hopes and then reality hits hard; they lack adaptation skills and support and they go into survival mode. They need training and education, it’s cheaper than incarceration.”

How does a child from a safe and supportive home end up in the hands of traffickers?

After an argument with parents the child needs a friend and finds one, maybe on Facebook, maybe at the mall. With offers of money, shelter and often drugs, the child is lured into captivity, forced into the sex trade and often moved from city to city.

Meanwhile, our courts and parliament continue to study the laws surrounding prostitution. Should it be legalized? Should brothels be allowed to provide a safer environment for sex trade workers? Those who are pushing for the laws are careful to provide the caveat that coercion and exploitation are always illegal. They try to differentiate between those who freely choose to work in prostitution and those who don’t.

What the Prairie Messenger story shows is the ugly truth. The connection between the sex-trade and human trafficking is too obvious to ignore. We consider the selling of human life abhorrent, and rightly so. We look to other countries and wag a finger of judgment. Yes, luring young people from their families with promises of care, shelter, and money takes place on the streets of India. It also takes place on the streets of Canada.

And, we must not forget that there are always at least two parties involved in every sex for money transaction. The basic rule of economics applies; if there is no demand, the supply will diminish and eventually disappear.

It is time to open our eyes to the basic human rights violations that are taking place in our own neighborhoods. It is time to open our eyes to the human trafficking of our own children.

a legal dance around prostitution in canada

On March 26th, the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down a ban on brothels. The judges ruled that prostitutes should be allowed to legally take their trade indoors and pay staff to support them. How the court’s views on prostitution have evolved by Daniel Henry, a Senior Legal Counsel, gives some judicial history to this issue in Canada. But don’t expect clarity. The legal dance around what should be legalized and what should remain within the criminal code requires some tricky mind-work.

Ronald Weitzer, a professor of sociology at George Washington University in Washington, D.C and author of Legalizing Prostitution from Illicit Vice to Lawful Business, stated in a CBC News interview that “Victimization is reduced with other parties present, and often in brothels they have alarm systems, maybe a hidden camera at the entrance and other screening techniques that the receptionist or the manager will engage in prior to the man or client even getting in the door.”

Not everyone believes that legalizing brothels guarantees a classy and safe environment for sex trade workers. Shelly Gilbert, who works with Legal Assistance of Windsor and the Anti-Human Trafficking Action Group, believes “This legislation is trying to speak to some of the protection required by a particular group of sex workers…There needs to be legislation that speaks specifically to what that exploitation and coercion means.” The ruling doesn’t help the women she works with. “It doesn’t help them to get out of the industry, necessarily,” she said. “Many are not making enough money to hire people. Most of the women I’m working with are still struggling in poverty.”

The Catholic Register reported on a March 24 conference on human trafficking, organized by the Loretto Sisters, ‘Myth of prostitution as a choice must be challenged’ – human trafficking conference. Bridget Perrier, a sex-trade survivor, spoke with the moral authority of experience. “We always hear that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. I always say it’s the world’s oldest oppression…Really, it’s paid rape. It’s child abuse.”

Simply put, “It’s the men who should be punished,” she said. “Their wives should know. They’ve got a right to know…Men need to be held accountable…It needs to start when they’re little. They need to be taught that we honour women, they are our life givers.”

Joy Smith, a Conservative MP from Winnipeg, believes the law must target the market for women, girls and boys. “We cannot allow our children to be bought and sold. It just can’t happen.” Smith is the sponsor of Bill C-310 which would allow Canadian courts to prosecute human trafficking offences committed outside Canada by Canadians or permanent residents of Canada.

In the midst of the intricate legal language and wrangling, the voices of Ms. Perrier and Ms. Smith shine with the simplicity of truth. As with many social justice issues of our time, change will not come from pruning the occasional branch or pinching off a dead bud or two. We need to get to the root of the problem. And, at the root of prostitution are oppression, exploitation and abuse.