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Empowering Youth Facing Homelessness in the Battle Against Trafficking

Written by Sara McQuaid, edited by Tvisha Shah and Julie Vo. Welcome back to the CCP blog! If you are new here, thanks for joining us and feel free to learn more about the Canadian Courage Project here! We share blog posts on a monthly basis every 2nd Tuesday of the month, so join our mailing list for alerts. Trafficking: an uncomfortable topic that remains a pervasive crime. Although it may feel like a “far away” crime, it persists in Ontario. In 2022, Durham Regional Police reported assisting 225 individuals in cases of human trafficking. Approximately half of these victims were under the age of 18. The majority of these crimes take place in the same city where a perpetrator meets their victim. What is trafficking? How can you learn to recognise the signs? 

What is trafficking? What makes this crime so horrendous? 

Although the crime itself can be difficult to understand, government offices have been working to make fighting this horrendous crime easier. In November 2000, the UN General Assembly held the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and adopted the legal definition: “Trafficking in persons'' shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion…” Sex trafficking is specially the act of maliciously coercing an individual into sexual acts. Terry Coonan has summarized the danger of trafficking: “Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar growth industry because, unlike drugs, which are gone as soon as they are used, humans can be recycled. Because they can continue to be exploited, they’re a better investment for traffickers.” Examples of trafficking include working on a farm as a laborer and not receiving monetary compensation or being forced to panhandle with the money being confiscated at the end of a shift or session. The Canadian government has been actively fighting against trafficking by adopting the National Strategy To Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024 and invested 75 million dollars over six years to strengthen initiatives and produce a victim-centered and survivor-informed response. 

At the Crossroads of Vulnerability: The Heightened Risk of Trafficking Amongst Youth Facing Homelessness

Youth facing homelessness is one of the largest at-risk populations for becoming victims of trafficking, especially women. Traffickers can take advantage of the youth’s lack of physical or emotional resources. They will often use a tactic called “grooming” where they begin to build a false relationship of trust with their victims.

 They will ensure the youth can alleviate their suffering and improve the situation for them and their animal companion. In 90 percent of cases, traffickers know their victims personally. Hodgins et al conducted a study on the current literature available on trafficking and its victims. Their findings show there is little work that has been done empirically to study the impact of sex trafficking through a victim's lens, and the majority of work has been done through a criminal lens. Through our research at CCP, we have not found any studies that examine the relationship between those trafficked with animals versus those without animal companions. This research is paramount for the future, as studies have been done to examine the relationship between youth and their animals. Studies have shown that animal companions are beneficial to youth facing homelessness as they provide emotional comfort during times of duress. Youth who face the crime of sex trafficking can be subjected to post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Animal companions can be a great relief during this stressful period. 

How CCP Fights Against Traffiking

The Canadian Courage Project is dedicated to alleviating the suffering of youth facing homelessness and to helping to empower youth. There are several ways in which CCP is working to help youth who are at risk of trafficking. CCP runs several programming and youth workshops where they are taught tangible skills to cope with mental health challenges. The “Be There” workshop curated by focuses on mental health advocacy. Participants learn about the “five golden rules” to support someone in any situation - including how to practice kindness, lean into tough conversations, and maintain their own mental health while providing support. This workshop provides the knowledge, skills, and confidence for youth to step up and be there for one another. By developing a sense of connectedness, youth facing the duress of trafficking can learn how to recognize the truth behind the situation and ask for aid. As traffickers need their victims to feel complicit and helpless, CCP is dedicated to teaching youth that they always have a choice and that their voice is paramount in changing their situation. 

Helping someone facing trafficking can be a daunting task but there are ample resources one can use to guide a loved one out of danger. There are a few indications that someone has become a victim of sex trafficking. Have you noticed a change in your friend's personality? Have you noticed an alarming or suspicious pattern of behaviours?

If you suspect a loved one may be the victim of trafficking, here are some questions you can use to help guide a conversation between yourselves: 

1. How does your current work situation make you feel? Are you working a job you enjoy or do you feel coerced to work? 

2. Do you feel as though you are being kept from your friends and loved ones? 

3. Has this person threatened you physically, sexually, financially? 

4. Do they keep you from resources you need like shelter, food, water, or medicine? From your animals?

5. What do you need to be supported now? 

There are many organizations in Canada that are dedicated to assisting those facing trafficking. The Human Trafficking Hotline is open 24/7 and can be reached at 1-833-900-1010. And chat resources can be found here:

As we stand at the intersection of compassion and responsibility, it is our role to empower youth to stand for systemic change. With further research and advocacy, the stigma against trafficking can be changed. Education is crucial to changing the view of trafficking which can lead to more research, education and aid for victims. When a crime is understood, it can be better combated and provide more resources that can help victims. The battle against trafficking is a call to action—a call to extend a helping hand to those in need, dismantle the structures that enable exploitation, and foster a world where the youth facing homelessness are not only seen but empowered to reclaim their lives. - The CCP Team

Sources: 1.Durham Regional Police. Retrieved from: 2.. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and PunishTrafficking in Persons, Especially Women

and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against

Transnational Organized Crime:Retrieved from 3. Terry Coonan, Social Justice Resource Center: Retrieved from 4. Public Safety CanadaRetrieved from: 5. Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada: A Scoping Review of the Scholarly Literature. Retrieved from: 6. The Unbreakable Bond: The Mental Health Benefits and Challenges of Pet Ownership for People Experiencing Homelessness: Retrieved from: 7.

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