'They're kids': Expert on human trafficking speaks about victims, prevention in Thunder Bay
Average age of entry into the sex trade in Canada is 12 to 14 years old, says former MP Joy Smith
A Canadian expert on human trafficking wants people in Thunder Bay, and across northwestern Ontario, to understand that any child anywhere could be lured into the sex trade at any time.
The average age of entry into the sex trade in Canada is between 12 and 14 years old, said Joy Smith, who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament for the Winnipeg riding of Kildonan–St. Paul from 2004 to 2015 and established the Joy Smith Foundation (JSF) to combat human trafficking in 2011.
"All 12 to 14-year-olds are vulnerable because they're kids. They haven't lived life and they believe people who are friendly to them and trying to be their friends and the traffickers are very skilled ... they're trying to get the victim to work for them, and separate them from all their support systems," such as family, friends, and favourite activities, she said.
Traffickers prefer 'middle-class virgins'
Research done by the JSF suggests 93 per cent of Canada's sex trafficking victims were born in Canada.
"Traffickers don't look for the drug-ridden dysfunctional person. What they look for is middle class to upper-middle class, they bring more money. They like virgins. All kids are vulnerable," said Smith.
The young people, 50 per cent of whom are Indigenous, are meticulously groomed by the traffickers and "initially, they call it the honeymoon period, and often young girls, supposedly at 12 or 14 will fall in love with their trafficker and they think he or she is a knight in shining armour, when in actual fact they have very different goals for those young people. It's really the money. They don't care about them."
According to Smith, a trafficker could earn, on average $280,000 per year from one victim, with that individual bringing in between $300 – $1500 daily.
Trafficking victims are 'abused, raped, traumatized'
But the victim is unlikely to see any of that money. Instead, "they're abused, they're raped, they're traumatized and traffickers have complete control. They eat when traffickers say they eat, they move when the traffickers say they move."
Smith became interested in the issue of human trafficking from her son, who was a member of an integrated police child exploitation unit.
During her time in Ottawa, she helped craft two amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada. The first introduced mandatory minimum sentencing for trafficking children aged 18 years and younger. The other allows Canadian authorities to prosecute Canadians who traffic or exploit other people outside the country.
Learn the signs of trafficking
Smith is speaking to students at St. Ignatius High School in Thunder Bay on Tuesday, followed by a public presentation at 7 p.m. that evening in the school auditorium.
Her goal, she said is to make people more aware of human trafficking and to train parents, teachers and other significant adults to recognize the signs that a young person is being trafficked.
Signs of sex trafficking (from the JSF) include:
- Sudden interest in a boy or man who is several years older
- New clothing, jewelry or gifts without having the money to purchase these items
- Frequent sleepovers at a friend's house
- Change in style of dress or makeup
- New circle of friends and isolation from old group of friends
- Change in attitude toward school, regular activities, friends and family
- Grades are dropping
- Unexplained cuts and bruises
- Using two cell phones
You can hear the full interview with Joy Smith on CBC Superior Morning here.