Many Canadians believe that sex trafficking is only an international issue, but an estimated
71% of trafficking cases involve domestic sex trafficking and 63% of those
trafficked were Canadian citizens in Ontario.
Often described as a modern form of slavery, trafficking is the control and use of threats or
violence to exploit another for financial gain. Sex trafficking throughout
Canada is a growing issue. Unsuspecting girls are ensnared online, in malls and
in school yards. The majority of sex trafficking victims in our country are
young, Canadian girls.
Toronto Police Services has increased its focus on the crime. As a result of their new mandate
and a new Human Trafficking Protocol, in 2014 the Toronto Police has seen an
increase in occurrences of 113% and arrests of 360% over the previous year. In
Canada, Toronto is a major hub. Girls are often transported to Canada’s most
populous city from other parts of the country for sex trafficking.
At Covenant House, we will often hear a young girl in our care recount how she was
convinced or coerced by her boyfriend to sell herself for sex. Soon, he trades
romance for violence and she is terrified to leave. Traffickers follow a
familiar pattern of psychological manipulation and control that includes
luring, seducing, grooming, and then terrorizing victims. A recent study found
that over a third of victims were recruited by men they considered to be their
boyfriends. Another 25% were lured through friends, most often victims
Trafficking victims can come from any neighbourhood. The ethnic and socio-economic
backgrounds of the girls are varied. Research in Ontario has shown that 90 percent of victims are female and that 42 percent were first trafficked before
the age of 18.
Major risk factors include mental health issues, body image issues, learning
disabilities, social isolation, child abuse experience and poverty. New
immigrants, LGBT youth, and particularly aboriginal girls are over-represented among victims. If there is a common theme
among victims, it is that they are usually youth who struggle with low
are among the most vulnerable. Some 30 percent of our homeless youth have been
involved in some form of the sex trade, including sex for food. While only some
of these youth are trafficking victims, this number indicates the desperation
and drive for survival among homeless youth that makes them easy prey for
sexual predators. In fact, the number of trafficking victims we have served at
Covenant House Toronto has doubled in the past year, with an increase in girls
from middle-income, suburban backgrounds.
Barriers to exiting
Pimps know that
shifting between acting caring and threatening is an effective way to maintain
psychological control over their victims. It ensures that they will feel both
loyal and intimidated.
Other common tactics
that traffickers use include giving their victims drugs to create dependency,
confiscating all identification and money, withholding food or sleep, isolating
them from friends and family, and moving them to various unknown locations so
they are disoriented and without resources. Finally, traffickers will often
blackmail or threaten girls or their families with violence if they suggest
leaving. Victims become paralyzed by fear and believe that they cannot survive
on their own without their pimps’ help.
know that this crime involves low risk and high reward. Law enforcement is challenged
to identify victims of sex trafficking. There are also many obstacles in proving
the charge of human trafficking in court. Although there has been a recent concentrated
effort among governments and police to combat sex trafficking, the laws
governing this crime are relatively new and there is very little court precedent
for prosecution. In Toronto, there has been only one conviction to date.
suffer from Stockholm Syndrome—their sympathies lie with their abusers, or
their feelings are complex and ambivalent. Since many traffickers pose as
romantic interests, victims develop a trauma bond, a relationship where a cycle
of intermittent rewards and punishments create a powerful attachment to their
abusers. They will often swing between a desire to press charges and to
rekindle the relationship. Other victims want to avoid the terror of facing
their trafficker in court and the ordeal of reliving their experiences. Many
girls feel intimidated by the legal system or fear implicating themselves. Finally,
since many of the victims struggle with addiction and other mental health
issues like post-traumatic stress, credible witness testimony can be difficult
House, we have supported numerous victims through the grueling and emotional
process of testifying in court, including the girls whose testimony led to
Toronto’s first human trafficking conviction.
Victims exiting sex trafficking are often pulled back in out of fear and desperation, so it is
essential that their needs are met in the community. Since they often were
trafficked from a young age, they usually have major gaps in their life skills
and education. Almost half of the victims have not completed high school.[v]
access to addiction and mental health counselling, access to employment and
education programs, survivor peer support, mentorship and frequent check-ins
from consistent workers are critical to ensure that victims do not relapse.
has assisted trafficking victims for three decades through our crisis shelter
and other programs for homeless youth. Our sex trafficking specialist Michèle
Anderson works with victims, advises on programming and works closely with
community partners including the police. She recently was awarded the Ontario
Attorney General Victim Services Award of Distinction for her work with our
youth. More about Michèle>
In 2016, we are
launching a dedicated residential program for trafficked girls at a new
location to better serve their specialized needs.
Signs of luring
If you know a
girl who is exhibiting the following symptoms, she may be being lured or
groomed for sex trafficking:
- She has low self-esteem and a strong need for approval, love or attachment.
- She is receiving expensive things like purses, shoes or jewellery.
- She is being showered with attention, such as expensive dinners or flowers.
- She is being isolated or turned against family and friends, and she will not introduce her boyfriend.
- Her grades are slipping and she is skipping school.
- She is out late at night and missing her curfew.
Signs of trafficking
If you know a girl who is exhibiting the following symptoms, she may already be a sex trafficking victim:
- She avoids eye contact.
- She is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid.
- She is not allowed or able to speak for herself – a third party may insist on being present and/or answering for her.
- She exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement.
- She is not receiving proper health care.
- She appears malnourished.
- She shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture.
- She has few or no personal possessions.
- She is not in control of her own money, and has no financial records or bank account.
- She does not have any official ID.
- She claims she is just visiting and is unable to clarify where she is staying.
- She has a lack of knowledge of her whereabouts or may not know what city she is in.
- She has lost sense of time and may not know the date.
- She has numerous inconsistencies in her story.
- She has been denied basic necessities.
- She has been branded with a tattoo.
- She has a drug or alcohol addiction.
What to do
If you suspect someone is being trafficked or groomed for trafficking, speak to your local police.
F. et al. (2014) The Incidence of Human
Trafficking in Ontario, Ontario Coalition Research Initiative. Alliance
Against Modern Slavery.
Women’s Foundation (2014) “No More”: Ending
Sex Trafficking in Canada, Report of the National Task Force on Sex
Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada.
B. (2010) Invisible Chains: Canada’s
Underground World of Human Trafficking, Penguin Group.
 Perrin, B. (2010) Invisible Chains:
Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking, Penguin Group.
 Gabriele, F. et al. (2014) The Incidence of Human Trafficking in Ontario, Ontario Coalition Research Initiative. Alliance Against Modern Slavery.
 Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014) “No More”: Ending Sex Trafficking in Canada, Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada.
 Perrin, B. (2010) Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking, Penguin Group.
Recent Media Releases
Video provides look into new housing for trafficked victims
Sept. 22, 2016 - As the first young residents move into Covenant House Toronto’s new transitional housing program for sex trafficking victims, the agency today launched a virtual tour of the house to provide an inside look at the new facility.
Learn more »
Suzanne Rogers supports local volunteers in raising funds for sex-trafficked victims
Jul. 29, 2016 - Suzanne Rogers, chair of Covenant House Toronto’s $10- million anti sex-trafficking campaign, sat down to dinner at a chic downtown bistro last night to support volunteers who are raising funds for the campaign.
Learn more »
Covenant House welcomes new provincial plan to combat sex trafficking
Jun. 30, 2016 - The province’s new anti-trafficking plan announced today at Covenant House Toronto, is a move in the right direction, the agency says. The new plan for a coordinated and comprehensive provincial strategy was unveiled at the downtown agency, a leader in providing services to young victims of sex trafficking.
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$10-million anti-sex trafficking plan launched by Covenant House Toronto
Jan. 20, 2016 - A $10-million fundraising campaign to support a new comprehensive, coordinated anti-sex trafficking plan, including more help for young, female victims, was launched at Covenant House Toronto today.
Learn more »
Covenant House supports recommended anti-sex-trafficking measures
Dec. 10, 2015 - The Ontario government should adopt recommendations to better combat sex trafficking proposed today by the Select Committee on Sexual Violence and Harassment.
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House urges premier to adopt stronger anti-sex-trafficking effort
July 29, 2015 - Premier
Kathleen Wynne was urged today to do more to combat the scourge of sex
trafficking in the province by Canada’s largest homeless youth agency.
Learn more »
Covenant House awarded UN grant to aid sex-trafficked victims
May 20, 2015 -
Young sex-trafficked victims in Covenant House Toronto’s care will get more help thanks to a multi-year grant from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons.
Learn more »
Sex-Trafficking Specialist wins Ontario Victim Services Awards
April 23, 2015 - Michèle Anderson, Covenant House Toronto sex-trafficking specialist, who has spent more than 20 years supporting young victims, was among the recipients of today’s Ontario Attorney General’s Victim Services Awards of Distinction.
Learn more »
New housing program for sex-trafficked victims first step in Covenant House combat plan
Jan. 29, 2015 - Covenant House Toronto Executive Director Bruce Rivers is leading a panel of international child welfare experts today as they consider a new report outlining the worldwide “epidemic” that is putting millions of migrant minors and youth in the hands of predators.
Learn more »
International child advocates consider child trafficking
June 10, 2014 - "The province’s commitment to extend financial and emotional support for youth
leaving care could help reduce the high number of these young
people who become homeless,” Bruce Rivers, Covenant House Executive
Learn more »
Covenant House Toronto encouraged by first human trafficking conviction
May 26, 2014 - A conviction of human trafficking for the sexual exploitation of two local young victims who received care and counselling from Covenant House Toronto is encouraging, says the agency for homeless youth.
Learn more »
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Facts & Stats
A parent's sacrifice
Bina’s parents adored their sweet, bright-eyed daughter. When her life was threatened, they risked everything to save her.
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There are 10,000 homeless youth in Toronto each year
Homeless youth are forty times more likely to die than other youth
70% of homeless youth are fleeing homes with abuse and neglect