Human trafficking is a worldwide issue. Around 27 million people are trafficked and it is the second largest crime, following gun violence and drugs trafficking. It generates $150 billion per year.
These are some of the many facts that were presented at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) during a symposium Feb. 1. The symposium was hosted by Waterloo-founded company Magnet Forensics, in light of Human Trafficking Awareness Month.
What may be surprising for some people is that human trafficking is not restricted to foreign countries or even to major Canadian cities, but can be found within Waterloo Region.
According to the symposium keynote, Timea Nagy, a former victim of human trafficking and now an advocate against it, the girls who are targeted for human trafficking have problems at home and are between ages 12 and 22. The trafficker will exploit these problems, making promises and luring them away from their families. They will then find ways to indebt the girls and have them work for them.
In fact, according to statistics provided, in 2015 there were 27 incidents of human trafficking recorded in Waterloo, 26 of which were correlated with sexual exploitation and the other was forced labour. Further, it is estimated that there are 100 to 150 victims of human trafficking in Waterloo.
Nagy also explained that there are many misconceptions on the issue.
“It’s kind of like a ghost crime, and it’s very much associated with prostitution. People don’t understand what it really is. They don’t really understand how it is possible that 97 per cent of these victims in Canada are Canadian girls. We …call this domestic sex trafficking. It’s right in front of us, but we can’t tell. Why? Because these girls look like prostitutes.”
In fact, 97 per cent of prostitutes in Canada are human trafficking victims.
It can be difficult to build up cases and go through the court system. It relies on the stories of people who have undergone severe trauma and it can be difficult for them to share what has happened to them.
However, Nagy believes that with enough education and advocacy about the issue, human trafficking can be stopped.
“We are at the same place with human trafficking today where we were with domestic violence 20 years ago,” she said. “Now we talk about it, now we use the language, now we are doing more education and more people are starting to understand what human trafficking is. But the law still has to catch up, our court systems still have to catch up, our society still has to catch up. It is our responsibility to send the right message out.”
Canada is one of the leading countries against human trafficking, having recently passed specific laws against it.
“Canada is making a statement to the world,” Nagy said. “[One] where we say that buying sex is not okay.”
Despite these gains, it will take more than laws to end the crimes of human trafficking. It will require action from society as a whole. Nagy suggested for people to learn more about the issue, talk about it, reach out to local MPs, donate to agencies, engage with businesses where human trafficking often takes place, such as hotels, and teach youth how to prevent themselves from being trafficking victims.