– By Georgina Alford –
Human trafficking encompasses the coercive recruitment and transportation of people, both within countries and between them. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is a fundamental violation of human rights and has enduring implications for the lives and well-being of victims. Women, men and children can be trafficked for a broad range of purposes, including exploitative labour in factories, farms and private households; as well as sexual exploitation and forced marriage.
While human trafficking is certainly not a new phenomenon, the more recent forces of globalization and commercialization have caused trafficking and the profits made from it to rise exponentially. Research conducted by academic Stacey Hemmings in 2016 suggests that globally, human trafficking is the fastest-growing form of organized crime and the third-largest income revenue stream for systematized crime after narcotics and arms sales. The International Labor Organization reported in 2017 that the global sex trade was worth an estimated $99 billion annually.
In recent years, cases of sex trafficking in Canada have risen dramatically; Ontario, in particular, accounted for 62% of all human sex trafficking incidents in 2019. Moreover, according to Statistics Canada, in 2019 95% of sex trafficked victims were women. Activists and feminists have thus come to blur the distinctions between sex workers and sex trafficked victims under what scholars have called an ‘oppression paradigm.’ From this perspective, sociologist Ronald Weitzer contends in the Annual Review of Sociology: sex work is viewed as the result of patriarchal structures, and sex workers are classified as prostituted, powerless victims, coerced into selling services with few tangible benefits.
Multi-service agency, Family Services of Peel (FSP) is working against human sex trafficking in the Region of Peel. The non-profit organization says, while there is a “thin line between human sex trafficking and prostitution,” the role of the staff at FSP is “never to judge, only to support.” A project launched by the agency in 2018 compiled data from Peel into a comprehensive Needs Assessment. The final report detailed the strengths, gaps, and weaknesses of existing and recommended services and programs designed to help survivors.
The research highlighted the tricky and often fraught relationship victims have with the police. According to Gender Studies researcher, Annalee Lepp, the police and local authorities are known for “arresting, detaining, and usually deporting migrant sex workers.” Therefore, they are mistrusted and avoided by sex trafficked victims. Amongst other initiatives, FSP is aiming to launch a Mobile Clinic which would move through key trafficking and prostitution areas and provide essential physical and psychological services to sex workers and trafficked victims.
Although the smaller-scale projects initiated by Family Services of Peel will not put an end to human sex trafficking, they do provide an essential service in mediating its effects. Centered closely on the lived experiences of victims, these projects aim to overcome the stigma of human sex trafficking by raising awareness and promoting a community-driven response.