Have you ever known something too bad to be true?
Would it blow your mind that in the 21st century, slavery still pervades the world?
My journey of gaining a clearer understanding of this issue, especially how it affects my home country, Canada, started with the Alliance Against Modern Slavery conference held in downtown Toronto on Feb. 23, 2013.
In 1787, the Northwest Ordinance in the U.S. forbid slavery, except as criminal punishment in the Northwest Territory, where residents were ordered to return fugitive slaves.
In the same year, twelve British men gathered together around a table at a printing shop in London, England, and started the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade, where with twenty years of work thereafter, slave trade in the British Empire, including Canada was abolished.
The inhuman and immoral treatment of enslaved Africans back in the 18th century has subsided with less obvious and explicit forms of discrimination, the cultural and political environment of North America and Europe has also been radically transformed with leading black politicians, talk show hosts, authors and entrepreneurs.
However, modern-day slavery now takes a different form: human trafficking. There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide being coerced into prostitution, forced to perform involuntary servitude or pushed into a marriage union without consent of at least one party.
The unfortunate and horrific reality is that much of this form of slavery takes place on the sidewalks of our neighbourhood, in the restaurants we dine in, in the basement of the house you pass by all the time. And yet we still turn a blind eye to it.
Natasha Falle, Founder, Director of SEXTRADE 101 and former prostitute spoke at the AAMS Conference about sex trafficked victims being regarded as criminals or junkies. According to her, even though 97% want out from the sex trade, of which the average age of entry is 14 in Canada, only 2-5% manage to flee captivity and are rehabilitated.
Long-term rehabilitation is especially essential seeing that 70% of all sex trafficked survivors return to the sex trade after fleeing their perpetrators.
The complications to freeing these survivors vary from case to case and from one region to another. Some sex workers have traffickers / pimps, some don’t; sometimes it is legal, sometimes it isn’t; some work within establishments, others work independently.
Falle advocates the ‘Nordic model’, where the social models of Nordic countries including Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland support ‘universal welfare’, ensuring the universal provision of basic human rights.
“Policies [in these countries] focus on the roots, not the causes. With the recognition that without demand, sex trafficking would not flourish: prostitution is acknowledged as a form of male violence against women and children,” said Falle.
(Source: Andrew Fung [http://pages.cmns.sfu.ca/vvc2012/2012/03/06/human-trafficking-visualized/] )
The reason that a lot of temporary foreign workers are lured into the trap of trafficking is mainly due to urgent financial need and risks of being deported. Their bargaining power is low because a lot of them have limited language abilities and few connections in a new country.
Still, not all that are prostituted are from overseas. Detective Sergeant Henry de Ruiter, head of the York Regional Police and Vice Unit, reports that up to 2012, 100 hotels have been closed down and 18 victims have been rescued from sex trafficking locally. Over the course of these rescue missions, De Ruiter mentions the greatest difficulty is to present these cases in court. “The judges still don’t get it,” he said. “Victims could be cross-examined by the defense lawyer for days, it’s almost not fair.”
The most essential form of support he suggested for trafficking survivors is a same-sex support network. The survivor might need a job or just needs to be busy. He/she might want a ride, but does not have a car. Comprehensive and long-term exit programs have to be provided.
As for law enforcement, De Ruiter mentioned that much more manpower is needed, which meant more money and funding would be required to conduct more covert operations and investigations.
Within the current Canadian human trafficking Criminal Code, there are basic provisions that give law enforcement. Section 279.01 prohibits anyone from recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring a person, or exercising control or influence over the movements of a person, for the purpose of exploiting or facilitating the exploitation of that person (maximum penalty: life where it involves the kidnaping, aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault, or death of the victim and 14 years in any other case).
It is important to note however, that exploitation / human trafficking does not require the crossing of borders or any movement at all. Section 279.94 defines exploitation as causing a person to provide, or offer to provide, labour or services by engaging in conduct that leads the victim to reasonably fear for their safety or that of someone known to them, if they fail to comply.
At the end of the conference, Oakville native Shae Invidiata, founder of [free-them], that raises awareness and fights human trafficking, quoted American philosopher Dr. Cornel West, “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.”
The first step to fighting for justice in an unjust world is to become aware and educated.
Here is the first step you could take:
Attend a documentary screening of ‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’ and conference on Human Trafficking on June 21st and June 22nd, 2013 in Richmond Hill, Toronto to become aware of the global crisis of modern-day sex slavery. (https://www.facebook.com/events/529199260459495/?fref=ts)
‘Nefarious: Merchant of Souls’ is an award-winning documentary that treks the grounds of Las Vegas, Cambodia, Amsterdam to reveal the intricate layers of physical and psychological entanglements that bind trafficking perpetrators and victims to their acts. (http://nefariousdocumentary.com/)
The second step is to just step right in and do what you can.
If you are suspicious of someone being controlled by threats, however subtle; shows bruises or other signs of abuse; having been tattooed or branded by someone; are deprived of medical care or food; whose freedom of movement seems to be restricted; works under unreasonable conditions, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477) to report a crime anonymously. (Signs of human trafficking sourced from www.rcmp.gc.ca) Do not take the law into your own hands or get involved in any illegal activities.
Support a local organization that actively prevents and rescues victims of human trafficking.
Project 417 (http://project417.com/)
Rahab Ministry (http://rahabministry.ca/)
Alliance Against Modern Slavery (http://allianceagainstmodernslavery.org/)