On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, I presented on the topic of Sexual Violence and Trafficking at the Impact of Family Violence Conference held at Ottawa University (May 13-14) in our nation’s capital.
We had light streaming into the greenhouse like glass board room which overlooked the lush green of early spring and the Rideau Canal, with its crystal clear water. A halcyon day for such a sad and dark topic. And yet with a group of passionate participants the discussion was probing, animated and sometimes contemplative. We were there to understand together what the nature of modern day sex slavery was where a perpetrator harbours and violates individuals’ human rights with threats of violence, to their personal being or of persons close to them, for personal gain. Who is most vulnerable? Its young girls and women, young boys, children under the age of 16. The indigenous population is disproportionately represented and most trafficking, contrary to popular belief, is domestic not international.
A typical story may evolve like this. A young person is lured by someone she believes she is in love with. He plies her with gifts and then increases her emotional and financial dependence on him. Often he gets her hooked on drugs and then makes her repay the debt she owes by prostituting herself. There is use of physical violence and threats of violence to keep her enslaved, completely altering her perception of reality and debilitating her independence. The perpetrator lives off her avails and sometimes gets her to become the “bottom bitch” to ensnare into the “game”, and control, other young girls/women like her. Sometimes he gets her to engage in illegal activity such as credit card fraud and drug trafficking and uses these as additional threats to keep her psychologically bound.
As the discussion progressed we all recognized that a survivor may not self identify as a victim of trafficking and hence getting her to leave is an extremely sensitive and tricky issue that has to be done with a “do no harm” approach. One has to carefully weigh the potential harm in any solution before offering it up. The best approach is therefore to address their basic needs for food, shelter and sleep because tackling the big issues relating to their physical, psychological and emotional well-being could take years. With the commodification of sex on a global scale and the thriving porn industry controlled by large mafias this issue has to be addressed at many levels. Sadly though, perpetrators of domestic trafficking may be local gangs or even sole operators such as “boyfriends” or, in some cases, parents! We had more questions than answers at the end but did recognize the need for strategies in Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership as common themes among agencies that are set up to help.
In other countries, the circumstances may be different but the basic elements of the trafficking crime – kidnapping, harbouring, controlling and violating all forms of human rights for personal gain and profit – are essentially the same!
Coincidentally, on the day I was presenting, the following news item made headline news in the National Post. http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/migrant-sex-workers-caught-up-in-ottawa-sting-facing-deportation-further-exploitation-activists
As a first step let’s all learn a little more about this issue by taking MCIS’Online Training to Address Human Trafficking. It is rich with videos where survivors tell their stories! http://helpingtraffickedpersons.org/
Impact of Family Violence Conference is an initiative of the Social Services Network http://www.socialservicesnetwork.org/