The Current

'They don't know they're victims': She was trafficked at 17, but didn't recognize the signs

Members of parliament are travelling across Canada to discuss how to fight human trafficking, but it's often difficult to identify those who need help.
Jade Brooks met the boy who would become her trafficker when they were both 15. (Jade Brooks/Submitted)

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Two years into their relationship, Jade Brooks's boyfriend gave her an ultimatum: break up or go into the sex trade.

At 17, she agreed to move to Montreal from her home in Halifax and become a stripper because she loved him, the now 26-year-old said.

"I felt that was the sacrifice I had to make to have the type of life that I wanted to have."

Brooks craved "stability in my life — coming from a place of not having my parents around — and just feeling like the outsider in my friend group."

"It was never really about the money for me, personally."

Brooks met the boy who would become her trafficker when they were both 15.

The early days of dating were what she calls "the honeymoon phase," but he became abusive as time passed.

She went to Montreal with him, where she worked in a strip club. He later moved her to Toronto, where she worked at a massage parlour.

"The misconception is that they're protecting you and getting your clients and everything, but he was basically just there," Brooks told The Current's guest host Laura Lynch.
Jade Brooks has written a book about her experience. (Formac Publishing Company Ltd.)

He sent her to work with another girl, she added, who took her under her wing while he lived off the proceeds.

"He was just at home or out with his friends," she said. "He wasn't really doing anything."

'They don't know they're victims'

Brooks was forced into what the Nova Scotia RCMP recently characterized as the hidden epidemic of human trafficking in Canada.

According to Nicole Barrett, the director of the International Justice and Human Rights Clinic at the University of British Columbia, Brooks's experience is typical, and many people may not even recognize it as human trafficking.

"People [thought] a trafficked person was someone who was kidnapped by somebody they didn't know," she said, "maybe kept in a dark closet somewhere."

"But more frequently in Europe, and in the United States, and in Canada… the trafficker's often someone that the victim knows well, and occasionally, it's even family members."

One of the difficulties is finding victims in the first place because "oftentimes they don't know they're victims."

People affected are often isolated, poor, or suffering from mental health or addiction issues, Barrett added.

Bill C-38 targets trafficking 

A series of public consultations on the issue, organized by a committee of MPs, begins Monday in Halifax. They will take place countrywide. 

The government tabled Bill C-38 in early 2017 to combat human trafficking. 

The Current requested an on-air interview with Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, whose office provided a written statement. 

"I was pleased to introduce Bill C-38, which proposes to give law enforcement and prosecutors new tools to investigate and prosecute certain human trafficking offences that can be particularly difficult to prove. The proposed legislation will strengthen human trafficking laws in our country," the statement read.

"Our government is committed to combating human trafficking and to better protecting victims who are among society's most vulnerable."

Canada is a major target for human traffickers, with 90-percent of victims coming from with Canada, not abroad. Their average age is 17-years-old and the problem has become so big, police departments across the country are devoting rescources to fight human trafficking. 19:14

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale provided a written statement that reads in part:

"Most victims of human trafficking in Canada are women and girls. To fight this abhorrent attack on basic human rights and dignity, Budget 2018 invested $14.51 million over five years to establish a new national hotline to support victims, collect data and help survivors."

In addition to legislation, Barrett said authorities should work with non-governmental organizations to find victims and then focus on expanding services available to help them.

'Rock bottom'

Overtime, Brooks started to realize the abuse.

She grew up thinking pimping was "the norm," she said, but even if she had recognized a problem, she doesn't know what she would have done about it.

At 17, she was under Montreal's legal age of 18 to work at a strip club, which would have discouraged her from speaking to the police, she said

"If it really occurred to me, I thought that I would have gotten in trouble for being there in the first place."

"But also I don't have a relationship with the police to have felt comfortable doing that."

At 19, Brooks was able to get out.

"We were arguing a lot... and I started to ask more questions like, 'How come you get to hold all the money? And how come you get to just go do whatever you want and I have to go to work everyday?'"

"He eventually got fed up with answering those questions, I guess."

Brooks said she had to get to that point and see the situation for what it was in order to break away.

"Once you're at rock bottom, you will find a way out."

"[You have to] know yourself, and to love yourself," she said. "I think it starts not only at home but within ourselves to understand our worth and to understand that we deserve better, we deserve the best."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, which includes a conversation with Nancy Rivard, president of Airline Ambassadors International, an organization that trains airline staff in how to recognize and help victims of trafficking on planes.


This segment was produced by The Current's Julie Crysler, Jason Vermes and Kristin Nelson.

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