Part II of III
By Karen McCrae
When Monica was 19, she was looking for opportunities to escape the poverty and political unrest in her birth country, Bolivia. A family friend offered her a position working as a nanny for his relatives, Beth and Joe, in Grande Prairie. The friend took care of all of the immigration paperwork and paid for her plane ticket, with the expectation that she would pay it back once she began working. He told her she could go to Canada with a visitor visa and his relatives would help her with the formal immigration process when she arrived.
When Monica got to Grande Prairie, Beth and Joe took her passport and forced her to provide sex services to clients they had found on the Internet. Joe and Beth controlled Monica by threatening to use their connections in Bolivia to hurt her family. Because her immigration paperwork was not in order, they also threatened to report her to authorities if she did not comply. Monica was not permitted to leave the home unless accompanied by Joe or Beth. She did not see any of the income she generated, as the couple kept it all.
Two years went by. A suspicious neighbour left an anonymous tip with CrimeStoppers. The police raided the home and arrested Beth and Joe.
Human trafficking is a violation of fundamental human rights: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that human trafficking is the second most prevalent illegal activity globally – second only to drug trafficking – and is the fastest growing global crime overall. While human trafficking often conjures up images of sex slaves in brothels in Thailand, this is an abuse that also happens right here in Canada. However, despite the enormity of this crime and importance of comprehending it’s reach, it remains poorly understood and often occurs unrecognized around us.
Human traffickers target the most vulnerable among us. Many victims come from backgrounds of poverty, substance abuse, and the child protection system. They may have dropped out of school, run away from home, or have mental health issues. Aboriginal peoples in Canada have been documented as being disproportionately represented amongst victims as a result of entrenched legacies of colonialism, residential schools, and racism. Newcomers to Canada, including Temporary Foreign Workers, students, illegal migrants and visitors, are also extremely vulnerable. They may lack language skills or be unaware of their rights under Canadian law and they often lack social connections in their new community. This leaves them isolated and vulnerable to exploitation.
Traffickers know how to twist vulnerabilities to their own advantage and often lure their victims with hopes and dreams for a better future.
Pimps, boyfriends, unscrupulous employers, drug dealers, and others in positions of power are well represented amongst traffickers. They coerce, deceive, manipulate, or force victims into engaging in sex or labour for their personal profit. They are able to use their positions of power over an individual in order to traffic them.
Unfortunately, this remains a hidden crime. Many victims never come forward. They may mistrust authorities and law enforcement officials and are often severely abused emotionally and physically. Traffickers often maintain control over victims through threats to them and their families, making it even harder for them to self-identify to authorities. Legacies of trauma and abuse further complicate providing assistance to victims of trafficking.
Fortunately, Canada is increasingly recognizing human trafficking as a serious crime and human rights abuse that requires immediate and concerted action.
In 2008, ACT Alberta was created with the goal of assisting victims of trafficking with their complex and individualized needs. ACT Alberta works with frontline service providing agencies, law enforcement and government in order to coordinate services and provide victims of trafficking with the full spectrum of care.
ACT Alberta also trains and educates the community about human trafficking. We offer free presentations on human trafficking to professionals working with trafficked persons in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, as well as community groups and agencies. The newly developed Youth Education Program (YEP!) in Calgary aims to educate and engage youth on human trafficking in Canada though a free, interactive and age-appropriate presentation.
ACT Alberta also provides direct assistance to victims of trafficking. They are actively involved in directly advocating for immigration status for victims of trafficking in Canada who are at risk of deportation. They also manage a Victim Assistance Fund which is drawn upon when victims of trafficking require assistance that they cannot find elsewhere. This fund has been used to pay for emergency dental and medical care, psychological trauma counseling, and transportation costs, as well as for emergency housing when a victim of trafficking is faced with living on the streets.
If you know someone in imminent danger, contact 911 immediately. If you know or suspect someone is being trafficked, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) to report an anonymous tip.
ACT Alberta also provides free community presentations on human trafficking. To arrange for a presentation, leave a referral, get advice, or coordinate services for a victim of trafficking, call ACT Alberta at (780) 474-1104.