Nova Scotia

N.S. woman shares story to let human trafficking victims know they're not alone

Clancy McDaniel is speaking out because she wants people to know the nightmare she endured five years ago can happen to anyone.

NOTE: This story contains disturbing details

Clancy McDaniel, executive director of Students Nova Scotia, says she's speaking out to bring awareness to the problem and to support other survivors. (Clancy McDaniel)

A Nova Scotia woman wants people to know the nightmare she endured five years ago can happen to anyone.

In 2016, during a trip to Montreal with her friends, Clancy McDaniel said she was drugged and abducted by men she later learned were involved in organized crime and known to police. She was 19 and in her first year at St. FX University in Antigonish, N.S.

"I could have very easily been in forced prostitution, I had no choice over that," McDaniel told CBC Radio's Maritime Noon this week. "I would have been addicted to drugs and had my life stripped from me, and at that point, nobody would care what happened to me whatsoever."

McDaniel, executive director of Students Nova Scotia, originally shared her story with The Signal.

She said she was compelled to open up about her experience after a 20-year-old St. FX student was charged last month with human trafficking. Justin Barrett was arrested in Ontario in December in connection with the exploitation of a 16-year-old girl in the sex trade.

"A lot of folks … started off being shocked and then were relieved and excited and happy that the charges were being laid in Ontario, and that didn't sit well with me because … I know this is something that's happening in our own backyard," McDaniel said. 

A young woman cowering in fear.
Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of human trafficking cases in Canada. (Shutterstock)

She'd spent time in Montreal before and that night in 2016 felt just like any other, she said. There were no warning signs that the man who offered to buy her a drink at the bar was dangerous. 

"I'm fairly certain the drink was spiked, and it kind of spiraled out of control from there," said McDaniel.

She said she was taken from the bar, away from her friends, to an apartment complex where she was sexually assaulted multiple times and fed drugs against her will. She remembers there were drugs and guns lying around.

"It was so obvious to me that they were doing everything to stop me from having any agency in the situation whatsoever because that's what they wanted to do. They wanted to trap me in that situation," she said. 

McDaniel said she was held there for hours and it was "a stroke of luck" that her friends, who had contacted police when she went missing, were able to find her. She convinced the men to let her send the address to her friend via Facebook messenger, saying her friend could join them.

When her friends arrived with police, McDaniel said she sat in a police van and explained what had happened and that she'd met the man at a bar. 

"I could just see in their eyes that hearing that was enough," she said. "It was very much like, 'Oh, how often do you go home with men you don't know from the bar?' Asking questions about my sexual history."

Montreal police won't comment on incident

Montreal's municipal police service told CBC News that it can't comment on McDaniel's case due to confidentiality.

"However, we would like to remind that it is important that victims of a crime file a complaint with the SPVM [Service de police de la Ville de Montréal] or their police service," a spokesperson wrote in an email.

"Any complaint about sexual assault is taken very seriously by the SPVM and are handled by a team specially dedicated to this type of crime."

McDaniel said she decided not to pursue charges at the time because given the men's ties to organized crime, she worried about the safety of her and her family. 

After she spoke with police, she was taken to the hospital where she was hooked up to an IV and told she had eight substances in her body, including Oxycontin, cocaine and ecstasy.

"Nobody signs up for this type of experience," she said. "There is nothing you could do at the bar, there is nothing you could do when talking to a potential new partner that would make you deserve this."

What human trafficking can look like

Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren works with the YWCA of Halifax and said it takes a lot of courage to come forward like McDaniel has done.

"Her experience is something that a lot of people have experienced, and also ... it can happen in different ways," she said. "It's important to understand that complexity, that there is this spectrum of how this can happen and a variety of pathways to entry."

In some cases, young women and girls are groomed and lured by perpetrators over a long period of time, Narooz van Egteren said.

It's important to understand that ... there is this spectrum of how this can happen.- Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren, YWCA

She's the co-ordinator of the Trafficking and Exploitation Service System (TESS) at the YWCA, which trains service providers — from school counsellors to police officers — to spot the signs of human trafficking and intervene.

TESS offers two-day online training sessions and more than 1,200 people have taken part since 2019, Narooz van Egteren said.

They're trained to watch for warning signs that a young person may have been lured into the sex trade, including someone becoming more withdrawn and secretive or developing a relationship with someone they didn't know before.

Other signs can include new and unexplained gifts like a cellphone, taking frequent trips to the salon or having access to transportation, Narooz van Egteren said.

During the pandemic, she said the YWCA has seen an increase in human trafficking activity happening online where perpetrators are trying to recruit young people who may be spending more time on their computers.

More data is needed

Julia Drydyk, executive director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said the number of calls to the centre's hotline for survivors has remained constant throughout the pandemic.

Nova Scotia has some of the highest rates of human trafficking in the country, but Drydyk said it can be difficult to get a clear picture of the problem.

"The data that we have to date on the rates and prevalence of human trafficking is only the tip of the iceberg. What we have now is just data that's been captured through law enforcement," she said. 

The centre has been working to collect more data on human trafficking, and Drydyk said what they do know is that it's happening "in every single community across Canada."

Since sharing her story, McDaniel said she's heard from women all over the Maritimes, in small towns and larger cities, who've escaped similar situations. She wants them, and everyone else, to know it's not their fault.

"I'm in such a privileged place where I was able to get out of my situation, and have had a lot of support over the last number of years that I really felt a duty to shine a light on this and start a conversation," she said.

The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is available 24/7 and can be reached at 1-833-900-1010.

With files from CBC Radio's Maritime Noon