Jan 15, 2023
Canada’s Unspoken Crisis | By: ALIX URBAN
*CONTENT WARNING: This article includes references to sexual abuse, acts of racism, discrimination, and other facts about the Sex Trade. Please read at your discretion.*
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” - Herbert Spencer
The sex trafficking industry is growing steadily worldwide.
This article approaches the topic of sex trafficking through a narrowed lens on missing and sexually exploited Indigenous women and girls in our country.
The current Indigenous population in Canada makes up about 5% of the country, yet Indigenous peoples make up about 50% of sex trafficking victims.
How can this be? I asked myself that question too, but I wanted to start on a broader scale. So, before we begin with more precise statistics on Indigenous peoples, let’s discuss the discrimination and threats faced by people of colour.
Studies show that people of colour are more vulnerable to becoming a victim of the sex trade. Cheryl Nelson Butler discusses these statistics through numerous essays in which she identifies and notes various correlations between people of colour, minors, and the sex trade.
“Race intersects with other forms of subordination including gender, class, and age to push people of colour disproportionally into prostitution and keep them trapped in the commercial sex industry.”
“Minors are also seduced, recruited, and sold via online advertisements and Internet websites…”
“…today's anti-trafficking movement has failed to understand and address the racial contours of domestic sex trafficking in the United States and even perpetuates the racial myths that undermine the proper identification of minority youth as sex trafficking victims.”
To highlight this explicit racism, a Minnesota-based organization to help female Indigenous survivors did a report that summarized the stories of over one-hundred women. One noted that a sex buyer told her “I thought we killed all of you.”
Cheryl Nelson Butler
Indigenous peoples in Canada
*EDITORS NOTE: Traffickers seek out victims by identifying individuals who are in need - so they might fill that need(s) to develop a relationship of dependence. This may include, but is not limited to, financial aid, shelter, food, emotional support, and more.*
Indigenous peoples are targeted more for various reasons, including:
Growing up in poverty
Lack of role models
Entering the industry seems “normal” for many communities
Desperation for food, money and the idea of a “better life”
To dig deeper, there is also a correlation between children, specifically Indigenous, and the child welfare system. A report done by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2014 found that:
“51 per cent of trafficked girls were or had been involved with the child welfare system and 50 per cent of trafficked girls and 51 per cent of trafficked women were Indigenous.”
Though many fall victim to the trade, there are various incredible stories of strong women who continually aid in the fight against these criminal organizations after their escape, including women like Bridget Perrier, who shared her story in 2019 to CBC (read her story here).
Adopted by a non-Indigenous family at the age of 5 weeks, Perrier shares that she had a normal childhood until a family friend, at the age of eight, molested her.
This was a turning point for Perrier, which lead to acts of rebellion. After three years, her adoptive family chose to give her up.
About one year later, at the age of 12, she was recruited by a woman at a brothel. Then at the age of 14, she was held captive by a man for 43 hours, who raped and tortured her.
"He was going to kill me."
A few years later, she moved to Toronto where she met a pimp and a similar cycle continued.
Perrier was strong. She fought to escape the industry - not only for herself, but for her two children (one of which lost a battle to leukemia at the age of five). After years of abuse, she was finally freed.
To reclaim what was stolen from her, she returned to school - completing her high school diploma, before graduating from George Brown College for social work.
Perrier is now an advocate and support for others who are and continue to face situations similar to hers. She has since co-founded an anti-sex trafficking lobbying group: Sex Trade 101.
"They think we're broken, but we're not.”
The statistics, stories, and evidence is clear. The main question that reminds unanswered for me, and I hope for you too, is: why do the numbers continue to rise?
Though there are numerous success stories, survivors, and organizations aiding in the fight, our community remains vastly uneducated and unaware. The acts of advocacy and media coverage are minuscule in comparison to the problem at hand.
Consider the graph above. There is a clear increase in cases of human trafficking between the 10-year gap of 2009 to 2019. However, it is important to note that a rise in case reports may be, in part, due to a rise in awareness - revealing what has been hidden for so long from the public eye.
There's a purpose behind the title of this article. There's a purpose behind the quote that I selected to open this article with. There is also a purpose behind the reason why I decided to write on this topic in the first place. It is because I truly believe in the importance of starting conversations around this topic locally and globally.
Even though we may end with some unanswered questions, we’re still walking away with a new perspective - with more knowledge than before and hopefully, a softer heart for the people in our communities who need our help.
To summarize what Herbert Spencer once said, education is about causing action and action doesn't happen unless we let down our guard, be at peace with the idea that we might be wrong and be willing to listen.
So, I thank you, reader, for taking the time to listen. To read about these stories and to let someone else’s voice be heard by you.