Victims of Trafficking in Persons: Perspectives from the Canadian Community Sector
In this section, participants’ answers to the interview questions are organised into two main categories: (1) the characteristics of trafficking in persons as encountered by the community groups and (2) the services available or necessary for victims of trafficking in Canada and the existing gaps and systemic barriers.
3.1 Characteristics of Trafficking in Persons
3.1.1 Defining Trafficking
Respondents were asked to define trafficking in persons in order to verify their understanding of what constitutes trafficking and to establish a common framework. It was confirmed that most groups working on the issue are aware of the UN definition; some interpret this definition broadly, while others question its applicability to individual situations. Although sometimes dependent upon their work, the working definitions of trafficking used by the respondents varied but were consistent in one or more aspects with the UN Protocol on Trafficking. The respondents established trafficking as an interrelation between displacement, control and exploitation.
Workers sometimes referred to the two-tier definition of the Global Alliance against Traffic in Women (GAATW), which they felt made an important distinction between the phases of trafficking: recruitment, transit and destination. With this understanding, trafficking in persons can involve exploitation at any or all of the three stages, as cited in the following response:
So, there are many things: there are migratory conditions, the condition in which the person was in their country of origin, conditions during transportation, living and work conditions at the point of arrival. All of this can be different. In other words, a person can be a sex worker in Romania, have a migratory trajectory where, during the transportation to Canada, may or may not have been fooled, may or may not have traveled in horrible conditions, and may or may not work in the sex industry after arriving in Canada. Footnote 1
Workers involved mostly with the Live-in Caregiver Program (LCP) Footnote 2 noted that while there may be forced labour and slavery-type practices in the destination country, exploitation in recruitment and transportation may be difficult to identify in some situations. It was also reported that gender was key to understanding trafficking and that even in cases of forced labour, an element of sexual exploitation may also be present.
A few respondents chose to avoid the use of a specific definition because of the unique nature of each trafficking case – in terms of who was being trafficked, by whom and how, and for what purpose. It was felt that the phenomenon defies a "one size fits all" definition and that strict definitions on trafficking may impede effective work. Some practitioners work instead with an issue as it arises and they usually encounter victims in the course of their work on other issues: refugee claims, street outreach, health education and especially on broad issues relating to violence against women. A few respondents preferred not to refer to trafficked persons as ’victims,’ but rather as individuals needing help.
All respondents recognized the fact that international migration and displacement were inherent elements in the definition of trafficking in persons. Being far from home, without their familiar social system and their potential social supports, was seen as an important factor in individuals’ vulnerability to coercion and exploitation. At the outset, trafficking that occurs within Canadian borders was not considered as an issue, unless respondents were directly involved with this population. Groups in Vancouver and, in particular, Winnipeg, were most aware of the internal trafficking issue, especially among Aboriginal women and girls.
The degree to which displacement is the result of coercion was questioned by some respondents. They asserted that many of those who eventually become victims of trafficking were indeed seeking to migrate but inadvertently found themselves in an exploitative situation outside of their control.
Exploitation is considered to be a key factor in defining trafficking by the majority of respondents. In the case of international trafficking, many respondents mentioned that even though legal immigration visas may be used to enter the country, such as is the case with the Live-In Caregiver and other temporary work visas, exploitation may still occur. In cases of internal trafficking, displacement was described as being forced by either traffickers or by the potential victim’s life situation:
Of course, we meet a lot of Aboriginal women, Inuit, in our work. Are they victims of trafficking because they want to come to Montreal? Do they run away from the reserves because the living conditions are disgusting? Because they suffer all kinds of violence, abuses of all sorts? They take a chance and come to Montreal, and once there, things don’t go so well. Footnote 3
Some respondents stated that traffickers use physical, psychological and economic control over their victims. Forms of physical coercion mentioned by respondents ranged from outright kidnapping (almost exclusively in the case of minors), physical violence and threats of physical violence against the victim and their families. Psychological coercion included encouraging a false sense of "love" from their victims, using deception and deceit, and undermining the victim’s autonomy:
Issues of abuse and power are not easy to deal with. The dynamics are complicated. People might be suffering from the Stockholm syndrome. Footnote 4 These are complicated dynamics since there is the need to be socially recognized and loved. People who encourage exploitation are generally fairly knowledgeable and skilled in using the weaknesses of people who are emotionally fragile…or who could be made so. The victims are isolated and misinformed individuals. Footnote 5
Economically, traffickers often saddle their victims with huge debts leading to dire consequences in cases of non-payment Footnote 6 and/or make promises of future prosperity. For international victims, threats of being exposed to immigration authorities are another form of control. With regard to the issue of internal trafficking, exploitation of pre-existing addictions or the encouragement of new ones is an important element. As well, many traffickers use the threat of criminal sanctions as a way of maintaining control over their victims. For example, the victims would be told that they will be put in jail if they are discovered by police.
Respondents grappled with the difficulty of determining where the line between trafficking and other forms of abuse or exploitation is drawn, such as in cases of forced labour and sweat shops. For many respondents, especially those from women’s organisations and those working with internal trafficking victims, the principal form of exploitation in trafficking situations is in the sex trade. While some respondents made a direct link between exploitation in the sex trade and trafficking, however, others stressed that working in the sex trade in itself was not necessarily an abusive situation. For those working with immigrant and refugees, the perspective of exploitation is broader and includes domestic work, child or elder care, forced marriage, forced labour or exploitative employment in family businesses, restaurants, agriculture and light industry.
3.1.2 Victims of Trafficking Encountered by Respondents
Respondents were asked to give a profile of the trafficking victims they encountered in their work. They were asked to identify the characteristics of victims such as: what makes them vulnerable to trafficking, their recruitment, transit and exploitation at the destination point, and the longer-term outcomes for the victims. Per organization, respondents said that they had encountered, on average, 10 victims of trafficking over the last few years. Footnote 7
Overall, most victims of trafficking met by the respondents were women and young girls and their age and ethnic background were varied.
Victims of international trafficking come from a diverse set of countries. Asian and Eastern European nationalities Footnote 8 were the most common among those encountered, but victims also arrive from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, or the Caribbean. Footnote 9 In Vancouver, Asian victims were most often mentioned, especially those from China and the Philippines. In Toronto, East European and Latin American source countries were the most common. Montreal seemed very diverse in terms of origins, while the Winnipeg groups worked more on internal trafficking with Aboriginal women.
In the case of internal trafficking, northern Aboriginal reserves in British Columbia, the Prairies, and Québec were the most often cited origin of victims, but it was noted that youth runaways or otherwise isolated poor women from anywhere in Canada were vulnerable to trafficking. As one respondent noted,
Even boys and girls who leave their home in Canada. … they drop out of school and they end up in the big cities of Canada itself. In this case, even in Canada these people are being targeted because there are predators who just watch this kind of people who are in need like juveniles and immigrants.
According to respondents’ experiences, a majority of trafficking victims originating within Canada are Aboriginal, with young Aboriginal women figuring prominently. Very few respondents spoke of immigrants being trafficked once in Canada, although it was mentioned that there is movement from Vancouver to the interior, or to the north of British Columbia (BC) for the purposes of forced marriage and the sex trade and for agricultural work.
In Winnipeg, respondents from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organizations reported that trafficked persons were usually both status Footnote 10 and non-status Aboriginals, coming from rural and urban communities, some of them having lived in Winnipeg all their lives. Respondents emphasized that victims of trafficking met by Winnipeg agencies had migrated from the reserves to the city and were female or transgendered living as women. It is both the migratory trajectory and the sexual exploitation that defines them as victims of trafficking.
In general, few data are gathered formally and the demographics of the population served by each agency are somewhat different. For example, agencies working with LCP focus on women coming from the Philippines, ethnic associations work mostly with members of their own ethnic group and ad hoc groups can form around issues such as the arrival of the “Chinese boat people” Footnote 11. For this reason, the national origins mentioned above do not necessarily reflect the true frequencies of their presence in a given city.
Regarding age and sex, most victims encountered by respondents were women between their early 20s and late 40s. However, some victims are reportedly under 18, with some as young as 7 in cases involving Aboriginal youth with drug addiction. Respondents from Prairies and Ontario also reported children being trafficked for sexual exploitation or adoption. Teenage girls may be falsifying their ages in order to receive temporary work visas. In the specific case of the Bountiful community in BC Footnote 12, respondents believe that girls are trafficked from the United States and from within Canada and their ages appear to be between 13 and 24. There are few data on the involvement of males, which, according to some respondents, may be primarily linked to homosexual prostitution.
Gender, poverty, social crisis, education, age, social isolation and drug or alcohol addiction were all cited by respondents as important factors in creating vulnerability to trafficking. Poverty was often linked to global economic inequality, and social isolation attributed to conditions such as troubled family life, history of sexual abuse and mental health problems. It was stressed that drug use cannot be underestimated. The particular situation of Canada’s Aboriginal communities was singled out by those working on domestic trafficking. It was understood that a history of colonial exploitation and racism has placed them in danger of marginalization.
In the case of international trafficking, poverty was cited by nearly all respondents as the most important source of vulnerability to trafficking. Poverty and lack of opportunity disproportionately impact women in their countries of origin, pushing them to look for opportunities elsewhere. Respondents from all cities noted that these socio-structural factors created favourable conditions for trafficking in developing countries
Really, poverty, you know? I mean, what else? Well, maybe a false sense of adventure. Still, again, it’s poverty. Really, it’s poverty. Most of the women we’ve met, really there’s no other thing that they say about why they’re doing what they’re doing now or how they got to where they are. It’s because they needed to. They wanted to help their families, most of the time. Especially if you’re talking to women from Asia. I find that that is sort of a recurring motive. “Help my family, earn for my family, etc, etc.”
Respondents indicated that the ability to obtain a visa to come to Canada as an exotic dancer or through the LCP was extremely attractive in this kind of context, which in turn encourages trafficking by leaving many individuals, who have few other options, susceptible to deception and exploitation. These programs open a possibility for traffickers to entice many vulnerable women into a situation in which they may become potential victims of trafficking.
Similarly, interviewees noted that internally trafficked persons were susceptible to trafficking as a result of economic deprivation and lack of opportunities in their communities. Sometimes they were seduced by media portrayals or anecdotal descriptions of city life. The pull to urban areas is strong for Aboriginal youth living in communities adjacent to cities as well as for youth in northern communities.
Individuals may also be pushed to move in search of education or employment. In cases of internal trafficking, many youth from remote areas first come to urban areas because they may not have access or only limited access to education in their own community. Once they have arrived, their lack of employment-related skills and lack of experience living in an urban setting increase their vulnerability to trafficking.
3.1.3 The Trafficking Process
Interviewees were also asked to describe the trafficking process they had been exposed to through their work, including recruitment, transit and forms of exploitation, all of which varied according to whether the trafficking was international or internal.
Overall, the study participants reported a wide range of techniques to recruit victims. Internationally, employment agencies, recruitment agents, personal contacts and newspaper ads were used. Internally, traffickers seemed most often to rely upon developing a personal relationship and dependency with their victim.
Internationally, illegitimate and unscrupulous employment agencies and immigration consultants appear to be a particular problem in the Philippines, recruiting people to be exploited in Canada under the guise of the LCP:
These recruitment agencies sometimes also arrange for their victims to enter Canada on foreign diplomatic staff visas or as tourists. Recruitment agencies and immigration consultants were key players in trafficking for domestic work; match-making agencies sometimes trafficked mail-order brides.
Illegitimate employment agencies are also used to recruit for the sex trade, relying on newspaper and radio ads for service industry jobs overseas, as well as word of mouth to reach their victims. This is done mostly through international prostitution circuits and venues that any person can get to know and use. It was noted that clubs in the United States and Canada communicated with each other. They also communicated with clubs and the so called “employment agencies” in Central and Eastern Europe. Asian and Russian gangs were identified as important elements in this type of trafficking. The major trafficking networks are overseas, but said to be connected to networks within Canada. According to respondents these networks were new, not associated with the traditional forms of organised crime.
Both internationally and internally, respondents said that traffickers approached people who appeared to be vulnerable and offered them jobs, opportunities, or education. Subjects are approached and engaged in conversation and the trafficker "informs" them about Canada: the "goodies" and "freebies" they could have access to, and opportunities to make money, to own material things and to move out of poverty. Young women are offered jobs as waitresses or hairdressers; they talk to their parents and the family provides the money that the trafficker demands. Traffickers arrange for all travel documents.
Victims are sometimes referred to the trafficker by friends and relatives who may or may not be fully aware of the traffickers’ intentions. Often, families will sell everything they own to pay for the trip of one family member, whom they never hear from again, leaving the entire family impoverished. In other cases, agents in rural areas and villages may kidnap children and transfer them to broader networks which exploit them. Traffickers maintain the exploitation of their victims through control and coercion, increasing their vulnerability:
Some people believe they will get a job here so the family sells their land and their jewellery. They sell everything the whole family has to get this money to pay to come here. Then they lose everything and they don’t even have news about what happens to the person who comes here. It is the poverty on the other side that creates this. Most of them don’t go back. Their lives are lost. They are murdered. All these are aspects of trafficking.
Recruitment agents or “immigration consultants” also go to bars, sex trade venues and coffee shops in poor villages or towns to seek women and subsequently get them involved into forms of sexual exploitation. Potential victims are met in public places. Most of these recruiters are men, although some recruiters are women who were previously involved in the sex trade.
Other types of traffickers reported by respondents included crime bosses or civil servants in other countries who take bribes and furnish passports. Lies, manipulation and blackmail are often part of the recruitment process, as traffickers tell the victims: “
I will get you there but you have to pay me back”. This holds true for recruiting both within Canada and internationally.
In Canada, respondents pointed out that recruitment happens in bus shelters and depots, malls, and rural villages. Personal relationships seem to be the key to recruitment, with many victims reportedly lured away from their hometowns by “boyfriends” who later lead them into a trafficking network. The use of computers was also mentioned as a new tool being used to lure younger people.
Trafficking in Canada is said to be primarily controlled by biker gangs. At another level, individuals, organized paedophiles, and small businesses involved in drugs and the sex trade were also mentioned. In BC and Idaho, extremist Mormons are identified in the trafficking of girls and women for marriage in polygamous communities.
Most workers interviewed had limited information on the form of transportation and the route of trafficking in persons. Internationally, the main distinction seems to be whether or not a victim has legitimate papers for entering Canada. Those with visas or those for whom visas are not required came directly to Canada by plane. When visas were issued, they were usually LCP or temporary worker visas, especially for exotic dancers. Those with false papers or those who entered Canada clandestinely took more circuitous routes, combining different forms of transportation. Within Canada, or between Canada and the United States, transportation seems to be mostly by private car or bus.
Respondents shared a variety of anecdotal stories related to them by victims of trafficking:
- Romanian victims were moved by trucks to a Mediterranean country, from which they cross to Africa on cargo ships or are flown into a European country where an official can be bribed to allow entry. Italy and Britain are important points of transit. Once there, it is easier to get a visa to Canada. Once in Canada, victims may remain in the country or be illegally transported across the border into the United States.
- Those that remain are often “sold” to traffickers in another city, after a certain time – for example, after the age of 18 when the girls are considered old. Girls are often rotated from Winnipeg to Vancouver to Calgary to avoid staying in one place for an extended period of time.
- Those from Africa are frequently transported through Germany or Italy, while those from the Philippines often pass through Hong Kong or Singapore.
Internal trafficking is becoming an increasingly important issue in Canada:
We certainly get Aboriginal women lured from the north as well as young women from all the provinces. And sometimes American women were brought up in the circuit. That’s true about my centre. Other centres in the country are dealing with women across the American border but also coming from rural areas into urban areas. We also are dealing with women introduced to the circuit which exists between Toronto, Montreal and New York, Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton, those commercial trafficking circuit. But also there is a big one between Vancouver and New York, and Northern centres like Prince Rupert and Vancouver. So we know some routes.
Respondents from Western provinces raised a real concern, stating that a trafficking corridor from north to south was emerging and developing in Alberta. It was noted that Manitoba was a crucial point for trafficking in Aboriginal youth and that Aboriginal women were transported both across the Pacific coast between Canada and the US, and across Canada. “Experiential workers” report that some Aboriginal women and children are trafficked out of Canada, ending up in Japan, Mexico, or elsewhere.
According to interviewees, trafficking victims are often involved in a debt bondage relationship. They are brought to Canada and required to pay from $5,000 to $10,000 US in addition to what they owe for their flight, immigration fees, training courses, etc. Those to whom the victims are indebted force them to work in exploitative conditions in terms of hours, salary, health and safety, until their debt is paid off, which may take twenty years or more. The exploitation was described by one respondent as follows:
Yes. Slavery. Like, making them work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without paying them. They treat them like machines. They don’t have feelings. … These women are expected not to get sick. Even if they are sick they have to work.
Many of the victims identified by respondents worked in the sex trade as night club dancers, strippers, or prostitutes on the street, in closed houses, in brothels or in massage parlours. But trafficking victims were also reported to work as domestic workers, restaurant or garment industry workers, drug dealers, or farm labourers. Some are forced into marriage and/or exploited in their roles as a “mail-order bride”. Despite the fact that women were most often identified as trafficked for sexual exploitation, respondents suggested that this might give a false impression that persons are not trafficked for other purposes. Those exploited in other forms of work, however, may be less likely to be intercepted by authorities, less likely to view themselves as victims and less likely to be considered so by service providers.
Trafficking was also found to be related to major public events, as with the women who were reportedly brought from elsewhere in Canada as sex workers for forced prostitution to Vancouver during Expo ’86. There are concerns that there may be another mass importation for the 2010 Olympics.
What happens to the victims of trafficking after they leave community services seems to depend on the level of marginalization of the victims. According to the respondents, women trafficked into prostitution who have exited the system sometimes find employment with agencies such as Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE) or Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society (PEERS), trying to help other women to get out of the same exploitive situations.
In other cases, the degree of exploitation has been so extreme – both psychologically and in terms of health – that the victims are unable to recover. Vancouver respondents in particular spoke of the Downtown Eastside as the end of the road for women having been severely exploited through domestic trafficking and now living with drug and alcohol addiction, HIV, AIDS or Hepatitis-C. Early deaths result from poor working conditions, exposure to violence or serious health problems. There were similar examples among international trafficking victims in other cities. Respondents also reported that mental health problems sometimes result from the exploitation experienced by victims.
For those who escape relatively early from their trafficking situation, or for whom the abuse has been less severe, respondents reported a number of scenarios. For international victims, the possibilities included voluntary repatriation, attaining permanent status in Canada, involuntary repatriation (i.e. deportation), going underground within Canada, moving on to another country, particularly the US, or falling back into the hands of traffickers.
Voluntary repatriation was rarely reported and seemed to occur most often in cases where young women and youth were kidnapped, sold or otherwise completely unaware of the situation they were entering, especially in terms of the sex industry. Cases of voluntary repatriation reported in interviews occurred through the financial support of charitable or activist organisations. For those who wanted to stay, some were able to achieve permanent status through Humanitarian and Compassionate applications for permanent residency, successful refugee claims or marrying a Canadian.
Involuntary repatriation was also common. This was reported to be especially likely if the victim had first been intercepted by police or immigration officials. Respondents from Vancouver and Toronto spoke of nearly immediate deportation after discovery and detention with the question of whether the person had full access to enforcing their rights:
Often, even if they have the right to a lawyer, the practice right now is detention. There is the practice of a shift in policy. Because the policy means when someone comes to a port of entry, they should have access to a fair hearing, access to legal aid to deal with that. Now the practice is they are detained and deported quickly. Women aren’t having the opportunity to talk to a lawyer to know what their rights are. They are detained, which contravenes our own policy. They are often deported without having access to advocacy.
For trafficking victims who leave the country or are deported, little information is available on their outcomes. Many of those who fail to obtain refugee status are reported to move on to the United States, where a wide variety of outcomes are possible. For some who have kept in touch with the agencies, there is evidence that they are still involved in sex work or some type of debt bondage in restaurants or other industries. In such cases, women get room and board in exchange for 10-12 hour working days, six or seven days a week. Most of their pay goes to those who "smuggled" them in, and the rest goes to their family.
For those who remain in Canada, they largely work in the garment industry or in restaurants. Some move up in the restaurant business, from dishwashing to food preparation, for example. Other survivors marry and have children. Several women trafficked for the sex trade were reported to have returned voluntarily to sex work but under better conditions. For trafficked women who entered the country under the LCP, most who have sought help from agencies have eventually successfully settled in Canada. For most survivors, family reunification is only just beginning, and is difficult because these women are extremely poor and are unable to pay the fees and other expenses related to the process of bringing relatives to Canada. Footnote 13
For domestically trafficked individuals, immigration status is not an issue and involuntary return to their original home is extremely unlikely other than in the case of minors. Rather, respondents reported the following scenarios: voluntary return to their community and choosing a new home for residence, or otherwise escaping the sphere of influence of their trafficker.
Lastly, several respondents spoke of women who had come forward for help but who, for a variety of reasons, fell back into the hands of their traffickers. Examples include a group of foreign exotic dancers in rural Quebec who were moved to another, unknown location when their trafficker realised they were in contact with a sexual assault centre. The psychological control of the trafficker or threats of violence to family members were said to be a factor in several women returning to their trafficking situation and breaking contact with service-providers. Lastly, several organisations expressed their frustrations in trying to help women on temporary work visas for exotic dancing. When they were forced to choose between staying with their exploitative and abusive employer and returning to their country of origin, many chose to stay in their abusive situation with the hope of being able to eventually improve their situation.
3.1.4 The Needs of Victims
Interview respondents identified a variety of needs encountered by trafficking victims. It was pointed out however that the experiences of trafficking victims are highly varied and needs assessments must take into account each victim’s unique situation. Gender, age, immigration or Aboriginal status or health conditions are factors that have an impact on the needs of victims, as does the victim’s stage of exploitation or recovery.
While respondents did mention meeting trafficking victims who had escaped or had been "discarded" by their traffickers without any outside intervention, many raised the need to be proactive in finding trafficking victims and offering aid. One of the first needs of victims is to exit their trafficking situation, something that can happen independently or through the intervention of third parties. With this in mind, respondents identified a three-pronged approach to intervention: sympathetic police intervention in situations of confinement or severe controls; long-term outreach and street work with possible victims to provide them with information about their rights and possible sources of help; and education in communities where trafficking is most likely to be occurring. Building trust was mentioned as key to successful outreach programs. With regard to the latter point, several respondents reported that it was often a neighbour, customer, visitor to a private home or a peer who had first reported a trafficking situation and sought help for the victim.
Protection services were identified as a pressing need for victims once they have managed to exit a trafficking situation. Protection needs differ according to the trafficking situation. Those involved with organised crime networks, especially those who agree to testify against their traffickers, may need police protection or witness protection type of programs. Other women, such as those trafficked by small business men into the sex trade or for forced marriage, were said to be in need of the type of protection offered to victims of domestic violence. It was reported that small-scale trafficking involving personal emotional relations has many parallels with situations of domestic violence.
It was reported that victims exiting a trafficking situation were unlikely to have any funds or the personal resources needed to find housing on their own. For this reason, emergency shelter is an immediate need – for victims to leave, they need somewhere to go:
The most common problem is lack of shelter. They have no place to go. There really isn’t much for transition housing for these women... They should just take them as they are because they may have no place to go. If they’re homeless, they’re vulnerable.
For initial shelter arrangements, safety is again the primary concern, in that victims need to be protected not only from those who trafficked them, but also from other potential predators.
Though useful, shelters are only a temporary arrangement. In the longer term, and depending on the type of abuse suffered and related problems they may have, be it addictions or other health problems, victims may need assisted-living services in which social workers or other helping professionals continue to provide support.
Eventually, most women need to find independent housing. Frontline workers stressed affordable housing as a real need if trafficking victims are to become independent and less vulnerable to exploitation. Safety for women leaving shelters or assisted-living services to reintegrate into the general community is also crucial.
Health services were identified as another critical need for victims of trafficking. Respondents raised several aspects of short, medium and long term health needs: health prevention programs; access to public health care; mental health care; and detoxification and addiction recovery services. Health outreach should be performed in settings where trafficking victims might be encountered, for example, massage parlours, strip clubs and LCP language classes.
Trafficking victims were also said to suffer disproportionately from three types of health problems: sex-related, drug-related and mental illness. The involvement of many trafficking victims in the sex industry – under conditions where they cannot control their activities or set boundaries – places them at greater risks for sexually-transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy and physical trauma:
They are really endangered, being infected or addicted and they need good advice and orientation about how they can take care of themselves, anything about health system.
The need for mental health services was stressed. Whether the person was vulnerable to trafficking because of a previous mental illness or whether the traumatic experience brought it out, the need is the same. The links between drug and alcohol abuse and trafficking have serious health implications. Trafficked persons with addictions may be at greater risk to blood-borne diseases. Frontline workers also indicated that all three of these particular categories of health problems increased the likelihood of experiencing other health concerns.
Workers involved with Aboriginal youth and women, especially those in Winnipeg, stressed the need for appropriate drug and alcohol addiction treatment as well as other forms of health care. The need for an Aboriginal Healing Centre was raised by Vancouver respondents.
It was noted that women trafficked for forced marriage often find themselves in a situation similar to those trafficked for other reasons; they have little or no control over their sexual activities and sexual exploitation.
Respondents at each of the sites argued for long-term counselling services for trafficking victims:
I think there should just be overall support. … And, of course, lots of counselling and support for these women. … There’s the first stage of support but you can’t really get into the counselling until they actually have their life stabilised. You can’t really counsel somebody who’s high on drugs, is homeless. A lot of these people don’t have a phone so they’ll come to me but they’ll have trouble, maybe, reaching me sometimes. They have trouble making appointments. You know, these kinds of things. Their life is too disorganised. They need stability. Everybody needs stability. How can you get better with anything when you don’t have stability?
Frontline workers felt that victims would benefit from support in making decisions about the next steps in their lives and in dealing with their traumatic experiences and feelings of low self-esteem. It was emphasized that counselling should be culturally appropriate. It should be provided in the victim’s language of origin and take into account his or her ethnic and cultural background.
The need for post-traumatic help was raised in Winnipeg and the reorientation of LCP workers in Montreal. There was consensus across the sites that victims also needed support in dealing with the aftermath of violence and sexual abuse, as well as help in recovering their children in cases where they have been taken by youth protection authorities.
As mentioned above, economic concerns are believed to be the key factor in an individual’s vulnerability to being trafficked. It is also reportedly one of the greatest factors enabling traffickers to maintain control over their victims. Frontline workers reported that a viable income was one of the greatest worries for people exiting situations of exploitation. The economic necessities pushing them into situations where there may be at risk of being trafficked often remain even after they have exited, in that they still have difficulties to provide for their own basic needs, to support their families at home, and to pay off debts to unscrupulous lenders.
Interview respondents in all cities mentioned that access to welfare was an immediate need for trafficking victims:
They really need a source of income. I see welfare as a guarantee of income. It is very necessary to make it possible for the women to succeed in their situation.
Personal income was of great importance. In cases where access to welfare is problematic, groups argued for the need of charitable or other government funds to cover the intermediary period.
They also agreed that employment, access to information, education and skill development were the long-term core needs for victims and the goal of nearly all those they encountered. Respondents noted that victims from abroad required information in their language of origin. They need to learn how to get help, to gain access to services, and to navigate the system, especially the immigration process. Language training is necessary if victims are to remain in Canada, become independent and improve their lives.
Acquiring immigration status is of primary concern for international trafficking victims. According to the participants, very few of the trafficking victims view returning to their country of origin as a viable option; be it due to fear of rejection by their community, fear of retaliation by their traffickers or for economic reasons.
Well, if they are trafficked, first of all they need to have their status. They need to stay where they’ve been trafficked because, once they go back to their country of origin, there is no way for them to be supported. It’s a given because these people come from third world countries. There are no such services.
Legislation was cited by several service providers as an important framework for their interventions. They pointed out the need for legislation outlining the protection to be provided to trafficking victims. In some cases, service providers found that despite the existence of anti-trafficking legislation, they still have problems defending victims’ rights:
Once we had a caregiver who was trafficked from Saudi Arabia, she was Filipino. We went to the police station to file a complaint. He said: I can’t put any crime in your complaint because my code says… there is no such thing as slavery.
When discussing victims’ various service-related needs, the need to address gender, race and ethnic inequalities was an underlying theme in all the respondents’ answers. They felt that structural discrimination and historical inequality has created an environment in which the exploitation of trafficking victims can still occur.
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