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The nasty business of sexual exploitation of Canadian children

May 1, 2012

Triggered by some of the articles by Daphne Bramham for the Vancouver Sun and a recent experience in Guatemala which I detailed in my earlier blog post “Justice denied to children”, I wondered how big an issue human trafficking is in Canada and what is being done here in B.C. to deal with it. I have found that, while Canada does not face the same magnitude of problem as Cambodia or Thailand, sexual exploitation and trafficking of children for the purpose of sex do take place in Canada with alarming regularity.

Human trafficking” under the Criminal Code occurs when someone recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, or hides a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over a person’s movements for the purpose of exploiting them or helping to exploit them. “Exploitation” under the Criminal Code is where a person causes another person to provide labour or a service by engaging in conduct that could reasonably be expected to cause the other person to believe that their safety or the safety of a person known to them would be threatened if they failed to provide that labour or service. Human trafficking does not require movement across borders although that of course may take place.

The scariest part is that parents, who do not permit their kids to walk to school alone or talk to strangers, turn even very young kids loose by setting them up with webcams and providing cell phones, iPads and computers with full, unsupervised access to the internet. Not only do many parents not know what their kids are doing on the internet, sadly, they have no understanding of the risks their kids are running. How easily can they be exploited and trafficked?

The facts are startling:

  1. Human trafficking is not just something that happens in other countries. “Reports are that Vancouver has about 500 street prostitutes under age 17 and that many more children may be involved in indoor prostitution. Only 20% to 50% of the sex-trade is visible on the streets. 70% to 80% occurs in massage parlors, karaoke bars and “trick pads”. In smaller BC communities, the sexual exploitation of children is even less visible. It occurs in private homes, back alleys and parks, at public docks and truck stops, and on fishing boats. It has been claimed that there are about 10,000 child prostitutes across Canada.” [Source: Servants Anonymous]
  2. “Domestic human trafficking victims have mostly been recruited through the Internet or by an acquaintance. The victims were groomed, manipulated, and coerced to enter the sex trade. …. Control tactics employed by traffickers to retain victims in exploitative situations include isolation from their social network, forcible confinement, withholding identification documents (including social insurance numbers, credit cards, bank cards and driver’s licenses, and forcing the victims to turn over all their money to ensure compliance), imposing strict rules, limitation of movement, as well as threats and violence. …. Technological advances allowed individuals or criminal networks involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation to recruit and advertise victims, particularly underage girls, remotely via the Internet…. victims of human trafficking are primarily found in some avenue of the sex trade in Canada…. Affected persons and victims have been found in vulnerable populations including migrant women, new immigrants, at-risk youth, and those who are socially or economically challenged. …. Recent convictions have shown that domestic trafficking for sexual exploitation is primarily targeting Canadian women.” [Source: Human Trafficking in Canada, March 2012 Royal Canadian Mounted Police].
  3. The bogey man is not hiding in the bushes near your house. Instead, recruitment for and the marketing of sex is moving off the street and into your child’s smart phone, iPad and computer. Recruitment and exploitation of children occurs through chat rooms, instant messaging, online gaming, email, social networking sites such as Facebook, discussion boards, and online support groups. To make matters worse, now that your child’s phone and photos have Geotag embedding, perverts know where he or she lives and where he or she hangs out. And as webcams can be controlled remotely, a hacker can use it to film your child without your or your child’s knowledge. The RCMP recommends that webcams be turned off or covered with a towel when not in use. [Source re webcams: RCMP]
  4. Contrary to popular belief, teenagers (and not young children) are the most common victims of manipulation and abuse online. [Source: RCMP]
  5. Often the sexual exploitation begins with what your teen thinks might be relatively safe behaviour. “Sexting” means the sending of photos, videos or messages that are sexual in nature by cell phone or the Internet. What kids don’t realize is that those messages often end up in the wrong hands and with the web can be circulated around the world. With facial recognition software, those images may be able to be linked to your teen, years into the future, potentially affecting job prospects and future relationships.
  6. If your teenager sends to someone else a sexual photo/video of a person under age 18, even if it is their own boyfriend or girlfriend – or even of themself – that could be distribution of child pornography under the Canadian Criminal Code and may result in criminal charges. Recently, several youths in BC were charged with distributing child pornography after videos of an alleged rape were circulated online. While I did not find any reported cases in Canada, in the U.S., young people taking and sending such pictures of themselves have been charged with offences.
  7. As in other areas, tragically our native population is over-represented. Coming from backgrounds of poverty, racism, abuse, the aftermath of residential schools, alcoholism and drug addiction, and a plethora of other issues, aboriginal girls in particular are often easy targets. In Vancouver, 60% of sexually exploited youth are Aboriginal. [Source: First Peoples Child & Family Review © Anupriya Sethi]
  8. Average age of entry into sex trade is 13 in Canada. [Source: Predator Watch]
  9. At least 800 people are trafficked into Canada each year, and from 1500 to 2200 people are trafficked each year through Canada to the U.S.  [Source: Oxman-Martinez, J., et al. 2005. Victims of trafficking in persons: Perspectives from the Canadian community service sector (section 1.1, p. 2).
  10. Perpetrators of sexual exploitation use the internet very effectively to hide their activities and it is rarely possible to know where they are. MySpace revealed in 2007 that more than 29,000 registered U.S. sex offenders had profiles on their website [Source: Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking by Benjamin Perrin]. The online advertising company Craigslist was a key source for marketing sex until protests from the public and political pressure forced it to make some changes to its site.
  11. Our kids are groomed by music lyrics and videos, by sexually suggestive clothing and by a highly sexualized TV and movie culture to think hyper-sexuality is the norm.

Are we as parents doing enough to protect our children? Do we even know enough about the risks to be able to educate our children? Next blog posts on this topic will explore more of the issue and feature some of the organizations that help to educate us about the risks, and others that help victims to recover from sexual exploitation and human trafficking.


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