Ontario a hub for human trafficking: report
By Chad Ingram
Ontario is a hub for human trafficking and the sex trade, a report from the province’s select committee on sexual violence and harassment has concluded.
The committee, which was created on a motion from Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MPP Laurie Scott, released its final report in December.
Scott, who was vice-chair of the committee, called for its creation in the fall of 2014. In the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi scandal at the CBC, numerous women were going public with their stories of sexual harassment, in the workplace and elsewhere.
The report contains recommendations for combating sexual harassment in workplaces and campuses and for creating better support systems for victims. It also contains a section on human trafficking and its seeming ubiquity in Ontario.
“Although often hidden, the select committee recognizes that human trafficking is a significant problem in Ontario,” the report reads. “Victims, mostly women and children, are deprived of their normal lives and forced to provide labour or sexual services, through a variety of coercive practices, all for the direct profit of their traffickers.”
The committee found that most victims of human trafficking are Canadian.
“While human trafficking is commonly associated with foreign victims crossing international borders, recent charges and convictions indicate that the vast majority of victims in Canada (over 90 per cent) are trafficked domestically (i.e., all stages of the trafficking occur within Canadian borders),” the report reads. “Human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation has been found to be the most common form of trafficking in Canada, with Ontario functioning as a major ‘hub.’ In these cases, traffickers force victims to provide sexual services to customers, usually in exchange for money.”
Recruitment is typically done through the Internet, the committee found, by individuals posing as the peers of the victim, often young women and under-age girls.
“The ‘boyfriend effect,’ the committee heard, makes it less likely that the victim will report,” the document states. “Some may not even view themselves as victims, or see little value or nothing to gain in going to the police.”
Scott, who is calling on the province to create a task force to deal with human trafficking (a May motion from Scott to create such received unanimous support in the legislature), had a column in the Toronto Sun Dec. 19.
“The typical victim of human trafficking in Ontario is the girl next door,” Scott wrote in the piece. “She’s the pretty, popular girl who hopes no one ever finds out that deep down inside she doesn’t feel pretty at all. She’s the girl who never wants her parents to learn about the embarrassing pictures taken of her at a house party. Lured into seemingly romantic relationships, these young women are psychologically manipulated by their ‘boyfriends.’ Isolated from friends and families, the victims are confined, beaten and sexually exploited by traffickers who earn over $280,000 a year from just one victim.”
Committee members travelled the province, consulting with survivors of sexual harassment and violence, family members, healthcare, justice and social workers in the creation of the report.
The report acknowledges a culture that marginalizes sexual harassment.
“Rape culture perpetuates the myth that women lie about sexual assault, and makes it acceptable to ask them what they were wearing or if they had consumed alcohol at the time,” it reads. “It means that it can take dozens of women coming forward before people will believe that an incident of sexual violence or harassment occurred, particularly if a celebrity,powerful boss, or influential person is accused.Rape culture makes it difficult for victims to name what has happened to them, even though they know they have been violated against their will. Rape culture treats sexual assault as entertainment, and sends subtle messages through the media and many forms of new technology that women and girls are to be admired mostly for their appearances and sexuality. It encourages men and boys to believe that they have a right to sexual access to women, and belittles them if they cannot attain it. Rape culture makes it hard for men and boys who have experienced incidents of sexual violence to report them and obtain care, as society does not recognize that they can also be victimized.”
Scott has promised to continue to push the government to take action on the problem of human trafficking.
“I will continue to work hard to try and abolish human trafficking in Ontario,” she said in a release. “With these new recommendations in hand, I will move forward with this issue and do what needs to be done to make sure that combatting this heinous crime is a priority for this government.”
Some of the report’s many recommendations include expanded public awareness programs, more training for front-line workers in health, justice and education and improving the court system so that officials better understand the realities of sexual assault and its impact on victims.
It also recommends ways to improve workplace culture within police forces and military, such as by creating an independent review and investigation process be available to deal with sexual violence and harassment that occurs within law enforcement organizations.