Researchers say they have found 140 victims of human trafficking in Ottawa in the last year, mostly from Canada or the local Ottawa area.
The nine-month survey was conducted by Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking Humans — or PACT-Ottawa.
The victims they found, identified through interviews with support workers, were almost exclusively women and most were young, between the ages of 12 to 25.
Researchers said they know of a few transgender victims. It's not common to find men being trafficked.
More often than not, the women were also victims of some other societal pressure such as poverty, racism or homophobia, said lead author Elise Wohlbold.
She says the result is many of the victims find themselves vulnerable to traffickers.
"They're running away. They're looking for a better life. And the trafficker's giving them that opportunity," she said.
"The traffickers provide some kind of social inclusion: home, safety, love, affection. They groom them over many months and once they're in it, they're too scared to escape, or they're scared for their families to escape," she said.
The findings go against the stereotype of the foreign-born woman who is physically restrained and forced into trafficking, said Wohlbold.
"It's psychological grooming," she said.
Ottawa police Supt. Uday Jaswal said he's not surprised by the findings and that police have been busy since they began investigating human trafficking.
"I think it's an important step forward for our community to understand the scope of human trafficking in Ottawa, and it'll really help us plan for the future in terms of how we need to respond, not only as a police service, but as a community," he said.