YWCA program aims to help safeguard youth against human trafficking
Participants to receive help with housing, mentoring and online safety training
Moncton's YWCA is beginning a new project that aims to raise awareness of human trafficking — and prevent it.
"We certainly know that it's happening," said Alicia Mazerolle, the organization's director of youth services.
"I would say that it's certainly happening on a much broader scale than probably what we're aware of."
"Even if it impacts one young woman it's definitely not ok."
The Brave YW project is for girls, women and non-binary youth aged 11 to 19.
Participants will get help with access to housing, food, mentors, counselling and training in things like digital literacy and online safety.
They'll also help to develop resources such as safety plans and guides about warning signs and how to help a friend who is being exploited.
"They're really the experts," said Mazerolle. "They know what's impacting them, how this issue is getting into their lives."
The federal Department of Public Safety has announced nearly $350,000 in funding for the Brave YW program over the next three years.
Other partners will include agencies such as the anti-trafficking organization Courage for Freedom, the Department of Social Development and schools in the Greater Moncton area.
Mazerolle said she's not sure there's much hard data about human trafficking, but a new report identifies a "corridor" between Moncton and Halifax.
"Within Atlantic Canada, the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Halifax and Moncton was the most frequently mentioned by interviewees," reads a report released Feb. 21 by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking.
"Traffickers go to Moncton not only to connect to the online commercial sex market," said the report, "but also to access the commercial markets in strip clubs," which are illegal in Nova Scotia.
The authors cautioned that they didn't have enough meaningful data to reach firm conclusions about where and how much human trafficking is taking place.
They said sex trafficking is "often hidden, difficult to detect, and frequently stigmatized", therefore "many victims and survivors may never disclose their experiences."
The report was based on interviews with police and service providers across Canada as well as reviews of news articles and research papers.
Interviewees said they had heard first-hand accounts from survivors who'd been forced to perform sexual acts through escort services in motels or condos, fake massage parlours, outdoor solicitation, private homes, drug houses, pornography, personal servitude, live-streamed sex shows and phone chat lines.
Survivors had several key characteristics in common: prior or current involvement with the child welfare system, poverty, homelessness or precarious housing, substance abuse, addictions, past trauma, abuse or violence.
"We know that our population is vulnerable to trafficking," said Mazerolle.
Human trafficking is often the "end game," she said, when a person has been exposed to social determinants such as unhealthy relationships and homelessness.
"Perhaps we don't recognize what's really happening in that setting if someone's seeking housing in an unsafe environment.
"How we would name it doesn't necessarily come out as trafficking or exploitation even though that's what it is."
And that's not the only wrong impression people may have of how human trafficking happens.
"It's a lot less stopping on the side of the road and picking up a child," said Mazerolle.
"It's much more a relationship that gets developed over multiple, multiple years of coercion and grooming."
A trafficker gets to know their victim and uses that understanding against them, she said, by, for example, threatening harm to their family or friends.
"That's how we see the cycle continue. It's very hard to then get out of that."
The report from the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking said most often traffickers are "Romeo pimp" boyfriends, organized crime or gang members, family members or drug dealers.
Children as young as 11 are eligible for the Brave YW program because they are not too young to be targets, said Mazerolle.
Middle school and high school years are "really trying" for young women and gender diverse youth, she said.
"They're using that blow to the self-esteem as leverage."
"It preys on our emotional well-being and our self-confidence, our self-worth."
According to the "Human Trafficking Corridors in Canada" report, some people are actually "trafficked" without ever leaving their home province or community.
Another way traffickers control their victims, however, is by constantly moving them around from motel to motel or city to city and not telling them where they are.
That also helps them avoid detection.
Usually they use online ads. Prices range from about $200 to $400 an hour. And quotas are often imposed of $500 to $1,000 a day.
But the victim sees none of that.
"Human trafficking is fundamentally about profit seeking but, in contrast to legal businesses, it circumvents the law and robs individuals of their human rights. Traffickers are known to hold and control the money received through victims' interactions with the commercial sex industry. They force and coerce individuals into the sex industry and keep all of the revenue."
According to Statistics Canada, police services across the country have reported 1,708 incidents of human trafficking since 2009.
Between 2008 and 2018, there were 582 cases that went to court.
Under the Criminal Code of Canada a person who is found guilty of human trafficking can get four years to life in prison.
The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking operates a website and phone line for people who want help getting out of sex trafficking situations or who want to report a tip.
It can be reached at https://www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca/ or 1-833-900-1010.