Sex trafficking, interrupted
According to Peel Police, 60 per cent of all reported human trafficking cases in Canada occur in the Greater Toronto Area. (TORONTO SUN/FILES)
During Toronto’s gala season, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the number of causes, organizations and institutions that need additional support, both financially and when it comes to public awareness.
There are art institutions like The Power Plant, Canadian Opera Company and Gardiner Museum. There are public services like the Toronto Public Library and international charities like The Stephen Lewis Foundation to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa.
Among these worthy causes, one stood out, in particular, this year due to its sense of urgency, devastating impact and close-to-home nature. That issue is sex trafficking, often of teenage girls. This year, not one, but two galas raised support and awareness for this growing epidemic.
Many people wrongly assume that human trafficking is something that occurs overseas, in far-off lands. Or they dismiss it as a problem that only affects certain communities or economic classes. In reality, it’s a growing tragedy that affects all walks of life and occurs with frightening frequency right here in Toronto.
In fact, the majority of trafficking victims in the country are Canadian-born teenage girls. Over 90% of trafficking victims in Canada come from Canada.
This April, a sex-trafficking bust just north of the city led to 104 arrests. These men believed they were purchasing sex from 13- and 14-year-old children. According to Peel Police, 60% of all reported human trafficking cases in Canada occur in the Greater Toronto Area. Arrests related to sex trafficking are making the headlines with more and more frequency.
The Butterfly Ball — in support of Boost Child and Youth Advocacy centre — celebrated its impressive 20th edition with a new focus on the organization’s human trafficking services, which are seeing unprecedented demand. An evening at the Four Seasons Hotel raised over $850,000.
Last week, the first-ever The Grand Commission gala in support of Covenant House’s trafficking services took over the Ritz Carlton and saw GMP Securities donate 100% of all agency trading commission dollars from institutional equity trades generated that day to Covenant House.
Both Boost (boostforkids.org) and Covenant House (covenanthousetoronto.ca) provide immediate crisis support when victims escape or are rescued. They provide legal, housing, addiction, psychological and medical support in non-judgmental atmospheres.
Teenaged girls are often recruited by pimps posing as boyfriends. It’s not uncommon for a girl to not even realize she’s being pimped out at first. They are forced into sexual servitude, not getting to choose the acts they perform or keep the profits they earn. They’re scared to leave due to dependence on their abusers and fear of physical threats. It’s also common for traffickers to encourage a reliance on hard drugs to increase young women’s dependency on their relationship and the trade.
Often, young girls may still even be living at home and attending high school with parents and teachers none the wiser. Signs to watch for include: extended periods when whereabouts are unknown; reluctance to introduce a boyfriend; sudden changes in routine; having more than one cellphone; receiving expensive gifts; extreme tiredness; and unexplained absences from school.
The first step to solving this pervasive under-the-radar crime is to recognize it exists in our own neighbourhoods and we have to know the signs. Sex trafficking is a local issue no one can afford to overlook.