Human trafficking is the fastest growing lucrative business in the world. It is also the second largest organized-crime worldwide. Human trafficking is a form of slavery in which the victims are used for either sexual or labour purposes.

Though most prominent in Europe, humans are trafficked all around the world. The majority of victims are sold into the sex trade where they are tortured, raped, drugged, and beaten and otherwise treated as anything but human. They are forced to dance in clubs or held locked in dirty rooms until a ‘client’ comes. Expected to work 24 hours a day, these people, typically women, are quickly drained and often left numb and broken, if they even survive.


Human trafficking is the buying and selling of a human beings for sexual or labour related purposes; human trafficking is slavery.  The United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime defines human trafficking as the following:

“Trafficking in persons” means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, and of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits, to achieve the consent of a person to be in control of another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

It is important to note that human trafficking is not the same as human smuggling.  Roughly 85% of trafficked persons are trafficked into the sex trade; about 10% are trafficked for labour and the remaining 5% for other purposes. Because of these statistics the focus of this paper will be on human trafficking for sexual purposes.

Victims of Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a global phenomenon and the victims come from all around the world. Eighty percent of the victims are female and fifty percent are children. Historically, victims have been recruited through acquaintances but with the development of technology, the internet has become a popular tool for recruitment. The targeted age group is between 8 and 18 years of age, and the victims are usually poor, orphaned, abandoned, or runaways. If the individual has a drug addiction this increases their vulnerability.

The typical scenario is that a young person (usually female) is promised work in a rich country as a server, maid, or nanny. Once the victim arrives at the destination her/his identification and travel documents are taken away and usually destroyed. The victim is then groomed, manipulated, coerced, threatened, and forced into enter the sex trade. Once they become a part of the sex trade the victims receive little money for their work and any money they do make is often taken away and they are told that the money goes towards their food and lodging.

Example 1: Tania
Twenty-three year old Tania from the Ukraine was tricked into going to Turkey to work as a nanny. Regular customers, a husband and wife, at her cafe job in the Ukraine promised her $1000 dollars a month if she worked for them. They knew that both her mother and brother were sick with tuberculosis and that Tania needed the money to pay for the medical bills. The couple promised that she could leave at any time to return home, they would even purchase her ticket.

Tania never got a job as a nanny, but was sold to a violent pimp in Istanbul, Turkey. She was locked indoors at all times and forced to work 24 hour days. Tania would service about 8 men a day and wasn’t allowed to use condoms. Tania had become pregnant before she was kidnapped, and was forced by her pimp to have an abortion. Tania was sold three times until a “kind client” bought her and sent her home. She was gone a total of two and a half months.  For more on Tania please visit:

Example 2: Eva
Eva lived with her brother in a big apartment in Hungary. She worked in the film industry, making music videos. When she realized that they were far behind in rent she checked the newspaper for better paying jobs abroad. She found an advertisement looking for nannies and housekeepers for families in Canada, the United States, and England. Eva called and was told of a job opportunity in Toronto, Canada with a Hungarian family. Eva didn’t speak any English when she arrived in Canada, and after some difficulties in customs she was taken to a locked motel room where she was raped and beaten. The contract Eva had signed for the housekeeping job was really for a job as an exotic dancer. Eva was brought into Canada under a ‘stripper’ visa and forced to work at a club; all the money she made went to her captors. Eva eventually managed to escape with the help of the club manager and went to the Canadian police. The stripper visa program no longer exists in Canada.  For more about Eva please visit:

Example 3: Katia
Katia, four and a half months pregnant, was encouraged by her mother to travel to Turkey to buy some things for her mother’s shop. An acquaintance, Vlad, offered to travel with her. He spoke the language and was going to Turkey anyways. He promised Katia’s husband, Vioerel, that he would keep her safe. Vlad sold Katia for $1000 dollars and then called and informed her husband of what he did. Katia was then resold to a particularly violent pimp by the name of Apo. Katia was beaten, drugged, and raped over the course of several weeks. Her husband, Viorel, desperately sought her out and tired to save her. With the help of the FRONTLINE team who filmed the documentary “Sex Slaves”, Viorel was able to save Katia. However, Katia did have to terminate her pregnancy as a result of the violence she faced.  For more on Katia please visit:

Traffickers suggest that the women can buy their freedom by working and making enough money to cover the costs of the initial purchase. However, the pimp can inflate the price so that she can never leave. Or, he can also ‘fine’ her, for example if a client complains about her, and add to her costs. Even if a woman manages to work off her debt, the pimp will often sell her to another pimp where the cycle repeats itself.

Escape is impossible for the majority of trafficked women as many of them remain locked in a room at all times. Even if they do manage to escape the women face other obstacles. In some cases the police are corrupt and will return them to their pimps. Often the women don’t speak the language of the country they have been trafficked to, and are considered to be illegal aliens. These women are re-victimized by the system and deported. If these women manage to successfully get police help they rarely are willing to be witnesses. There is no witness protection program for these women and as the traffickers often know about their family and children, the women are unwilling to take the risk of angering them further.

Although the trafficked individuals are the main victims, the family and friends left behind are victimized as well. These individuals often have no idea what happened to their loved one, and in many cases, will never neither see nor hear from them again.


The recruiters are the first people in the human trafficking chain. The majority of recruiters are females and were often, at one point in time, sex workers themselves. Generally, the only way to escape the sex trade is become a recruiter. This change from victim to perpetrator is known as second wave recruiting.

The recruiters deceive women by advertising a glamorous job (i.e. model or waitress) in a foreign country. They ensure that the employment opportunities will lead to wealth, and reinforce this concept by wearing beautiful clothing and driving expensive cars. In addition, the recruiters depict themselves as kind and trustworthy which they utilize to manipulate the victims. Recruiters typically know the victim or the victim’s family personally which increases the likelihood that the victim will trust the recruiter.


The rapid expansion of human trafficking has led to the development of transnational criminal organizations profiting off these lucrative illegal activities. The international crime organizations employ “smaller, decentralized groups” to recruit, transport and/or shelter victims. Human trafficking is also operated by local gangs/pimps and even family members. Typically, these individuals work independently and traffic victims for personal profit. As a result, it is evident that there is no clear description of the type of perpetrator that participates in human trafficking. The trafficker can be male or female, a stranger or a close relative, and can be a “seemingly upstanding member of the community”. Traffickers maintain control over their victims by confiscating their passports/identification documents, and by utilizing threats, intimidation and sexual/physical abuse.

Human trafficking is quickly developing worldwide, due to the “low risk/high reward activity” paradigm. It is difficult to detect and investigate these crimes, therefore leading to low prosecution rates globally. Furthermore, the financial income garnered through trafficking is astounding. The United Nations (UN) has determined that human trafficking produces annual revenue of approximately $32 billion (US) dollars.

Trafficking in Canada

Due to the underground nature of this crime, there is very little data surrounding the specificities of human trafficking.  In 2004, the RCMP estimated that 800-1200 people were trafficked through and into Canada.RCMP has since retracted this estimate, and has not offered a new approximation due to the difficulty of correctly calculating the trafficking issue in Canada.

Regarding officially reported violations, in 2014 there were 206 police reported incidents of human trafficking in Canada. The victims were predominantly female (93%), while the accused were typically male (83%). The victims were generally young individuals, with nearly half (47%) between the ages of 18 and 24. Moreover, one-quarter (25%) of trafficking victims were under the age of 18. Of the Canadian population, Aboriginals are disproportionately over-represented within human trafficking.

The Aboriginal population within Canada is approximately 3%, however in certain cities they make up 90% of the sex trade. Aboriginal women and girls as young as 7, have been domestically trafficked since the 1950’s. During this time, Aboriginals were beginning to move into larger urban centres and there was more communication between Native communities and towns. Currently, the domestic trafficking of Aboriginal girls is mostly due to these girls running away from home, or because they leave their community for life in a larger city. As a result, the girls are targeted almost immediately. The traffickers often know someone within the aboriginal community who will inform them of any girl’s departure, so in many cases the girls are picked up upon arrival from the airport or bus station. The aboriginal culture is very accepting of strangers, so the young girls tend to trust anyone who promises them a place to stay or access to any resources, making them easy targets to lure into the business. Additionally, systemic racism, poverty, abuse and a troubling history due to colonization are all factors contributing to the disproportionate representation of Aboriginals in the human trafficking trade.

In September of 2010 the RCMP Criminal Intelligence Program and the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre released Human Trafficking in Canada: A Threat Assessment. The report found that Canada is a primary destination country for human trafficking for sexual purposes. Some of the victims enter illegally, though many enter legally through student visas. The victims are often hidden under fronts of massage parlours, escort services, and domestic brothels.


Human trafficking thrives based on push factors and pull factors. Push factors are factors that make women and children more vulnerable to be targeted for the global sex market. These factors tend to push the victims out of their community in search of better circumstances. Common push factors include the following:

  • Poverty
  • High unemployment rate
  • Domestic violence
  • Childhood abuse
  • Discrimination against women
  • War or terrorism that cause people to look for an escape
  • Desire for a better life for themselves and their families
Pull factors are the factors that make the global sex industry successful. The biggest pull factor is high global demand for sex. Millions of brothels, strip bars, massage parlours, and escort services exist everywhere; all seeking young, beautiful women to serve and pleasure paying patrons. Amongst these businesses are the ever popular street corners which (mostly) men visit on a regular basis looking for sex.  The consumerism surrounding sex causes the workers to be quickly ‘used up’ which leaves the businesses looking for new, fresh bodies. The only way to feed this high demand is through trickery and trafficking.

The Fight Against Human Trafficking

Organizations and governments around the world are fighting to put an end to human trafficking. Canada has taken the following steps to help prevent and end the trafficking of humans:

  • In 2000 Canada ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court which includes “sexual slavery” as a crime against humanity.
  • In 2000 Canada signed (and in 2002 ratified) the United Nations’ Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
  • Section 118 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act states that; “No person shall knowingly organize the coming into Canada of one or more persons by means of abduction, fraud, deception or use or threat of force or coercion.”  The maximum penalty for this offence is life imprisonment, a fine of $1,000,000 or both.
  • Canada has also ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Under the CRC, Canada has agreed to provide any trafficked children with special protection, assistance, and attention.
  • Former Kiladon-St. Paul Member of Parliament Joy Smith has been an avid advocate against human trafficking since she was first elected in 2004. She has brought the issue of human trafficking to the forefront in Canadian politics and has also increased awareness of this issue in the public on a national level which has resulted in many changes to the Immigration and Refugee Act and the Criminal Code (Bill C-268). She  was also successful in having Parliament condemn human trafficking, had a comprehensive study done on this issue resulting in the report Turning Outrage into Action. Additionally, she proposed a national action plan to combat human trafficking titled, Connecting the Dots. Joy now continues her work through the Joy Smith Foundation, by raising awareness and providing tangible support to organizations dedicated to ending Human Trafficking.
  • In 2012 the Safe Streets and Communities Act was passed which reformed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to make it possible to deny work permits to applicants vulnerable to abuse or exploitation, including those vulnerable to humiliating and degrading treatment or sexual exploitation, such as exotic dancers and low-skilled labourers.
  • MP Joy Smith’s Private Members Bill, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (trafficking in persons), received Royal Assent on June 28, 2012. This bill ensures that Canadian citizens and permanent residents can now be held fully responsible for their actions if they chose to commit offences of exploitation or human trafficking outside of Canada. This bill effectively makes it so that Canadian offenders cannot escape prosecution by committing exploitation offences in other countries and then returning to Canada without being held accountable.

As a result of the efforts of the Canadian government and individuals such as Joy Smith, the Canadian Criminal Code now includes the following sections which pertain specifically to human trafficking:

  • S. 183 (xlvii.1 and xlvii.11): Invasion of privacy- “offence” means an offence contrary to, any conspiracy or attempt to commit or being an accessory after the fact in relation to an offence contrary to, or any counselling in relation to an offence contrary to section279.01 and 279.011 (trafficking persons under 18 years).
  • S. 279(1): Kidnapping- this section includes causing an unwilling person to be unlawfully transported outside of Canada.
  • S.279.01: Trafficking in Persons- this includes controlling the movements of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, receiving or concealing person for the purpose of exploiting them.
  • S.279.011: Trafficking persons under the age of 18- this includes controlling the movements of, recruiting, harbouring, transporting, receiving or concealing a person for the purpose of exploitation, and also includes a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years imprisonment. If there are aggravating factors, such as kidnapping, aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault against, or if the offender causes death to, the minor victim during the commission of the offence, the mandatory minimum penalty is 6 years imprisonment.
  • S. 279.02: Material Benefit- Benefitting economically from trafficking.
  • S. 279.03: Withholding or Destroying Documents- this includes destroying identification, travel, or immigrations documents to facilitate trafficking.
  • S. 279.04: Exploitation

Other criminal code sections that pertain to trafficking include: extortion, forcible confinement, conspiracy, organized crime, and controlling or living off the avails of prostitution.

In Canada, anti-human trafficking efforts are enforced by an Interdepartmental Working Group on Trafficking in Persons (IWGTIP). IWGTIP is co-chaired by the Public Safety and Justice Canada and is made up of 17 departments and agencies. Federal efforts through IWGTIP are based on the ‘4-Ps’.

  • Prevention of trafficking through education, public awareness, research, and training.
  • Protection of victims through understanding and providing supports that address their specific needs.
  • Prosecution of offenders through legislation and support for law enforcement and aids for witness testimony.
  • Partnerships across all levels – local, regional, national and international – involving both government and civil society organizations.


Many countries worldwide have laws about kidnapping and forcing individuals into prostitution; however in some countries these laws are not strongly enforced. The human aspects of these women are over looked and instead they are treated like objects whose sole purpose is to provide pleasure to whoever pays.

Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery that needs to be stopped. The victims of human trafficking are deprived of their freedom, meanwhile their recruiters and traffickers are profiting from these crimes. Trafficking is a global issue that is increasing rapidly due to the low risk and high reward standard. Even within Canada, trafficking is a serious concern especially among the Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal Canadians are disproportionately overrepresented in human trafficking due to numerous factors including poverty, racism and abuse. Although Canada has implemented new legislation to prevent and protect individuals from human trafficking, there is still room for improvement. Education is key; not just for the experts and law enforcement but for the general public as well.

To learn more about human trafficking and how you can make a difference please visit the links listed below:

Last modified: October 7, 2016

Barrett, Nicole. An Exploration of Promising Practices in Response to Human Trafficking in Canada. 2010.

Beyond Borders. “Beyond Borders Fact Sheet on Trafficking Children for Sexual Purposes.” February 2009.

Cherry, Tamara. “Flesh Trade Targets Natives.” November 2008. Toronto Sun.

Cockburn, Andrew. “21st Century Slaves.” National Geographic.

Department of Justice. What is Human Trafficking?.Updated January 2015.

Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada. “Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling.” Updated
October 2010.

Karam, Maisie. Trafficking Persons in Canada, 2014. Statistics Canada. Updated July 2016.

Malarek, Victor. “The Natashas The New Global Sex Trade.” 2004. Penguin Group: Toronto, Canada.
PBS. “Sex Slaves.” 2007. PBS frontline documentary.

Public Safety Canada. “Human Trafficking.” Updated September 2010.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Frequently Asked Questions on Human Trafficking: Who are the traffickers?. Updated March 2014.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Human Trafficking in Canada: A Threat Assessment.” September 2010.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre.” Updated 2011.

Salvation Army. “Human Sex Trafficking.”

Salvation Army. Human Trafficking in Canada: Frequently Asked Questions. 2011.