Barriers and Bridges
Human trafficking is a major issue in Canada and around the world. As part of FAIR’s Together for Freedom appeal, we invited our partner, BridgeNorth, to write about the barriers faced by victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation in their communities, and the ways they can get to safety.
A young girl has been dating her boyfriend for about a month now. He is older and first started talking to her on social media. She is 14, and her parents do not want her to date yet, so he encourages her to keep their relationship a secret. Her parents think she is spending time with friends. He makes her feel beautiful and mature and introduces her to drugs and alcohol. In just a few months, she fell in love and had her first sexual encounter with him. One day, he tells her he has money problems and needs her help to get out of trouble. He insists that if she genuinely loves him, and wants to have a future together, she’ll help him out, just this one time.
He drops her off at a motel to meet her first buyer. When she leaves the motel, she feels ashamed and afraid. She lied to her parents about who she was spending time with and now thinks what happened is her fault. She tells her boyfriend she wants to go home and won’t do this again. He says if she disobeys him, he’ll tell her parents what she did, and they won’t love her anymore.
Most instances of human trafficking in Canada involve Canadian perpetrators and Canadian victims. Sex trafficking, which is by far the most common form of human trafficking in Canada, includes transporting or holding victims for sexual exploitation. Sex traffickers get their victims to provide sexual services through different forms of coercion.
The average age of recruitment in Canada is 13 years old. Traffickers often pose as friends and boyfriends, targeting young females by selling the dream of romance, an exciting life, and promises of love or money. In reality, victims of sex trafficking and sexual exploitation live a horrific nightmare that is very easy to fall into and difficult to escape.
In the luring and grooming stages of trafficking, a victim will likely be isolated from her support system, coming to rely solely on the trafficker in pursuit of the future he has promised her. This ensures that when the trafficking begins, she has no one safe and caring to turn to. Trafficking is not a choice, but because of how traffickers manipulate their victims, she feels that it is her fault that she has ended up in this situation and is often too ashamed and afraid to ask for help. She is a good kid caught in a bad situation. All she chose to do was open her heart to someone she thought cared about her.
Once someone has become entrenched in trafficking, reaching them and providing them with the resources they need to exit the situation they are now in becomes increasingly difficult. Traffickers know how to keep their victims isolated and controlled, preventing her from refusing orders or seeking help.
The sexually exploitative acts that victims of trafficking are subjected to are atrocious. Anyone subjected to these crimes will experience physical and psychological trauma. Many victims are minors when they are first recruited and trafficked and do not have the emotional tools to process what is happening to them. Dissociation becomes her only option when there is no room for a flight-or-fight response, and it is often taken to the extreme. This response to trauma makes exiting difficult as she becomes frozen in a lifestyle riddled with abuse.
When victims want to exit, traffickers use coercion to prevent them from leaving. Fear of violence being committed against oneself or one’s loved ones is a significant barrier to exiting. In the luring and grooming stages of trafficking, a trafficker will learn as much personal information about a victim as possible. This will later be used against her as he threatens to hurt her or her family to coerce her into submission. Physical abuse is commonplace in these circumstances. As a result, she is terrified of the consequences associated with disobeying, let alone exiting completely.
Although there are numerous barriers to exiting, it is never impossible. With the right specialized support, women and girls impacted by sex trafficking can experience freedom.
BridgeNorth is a survivor-led organization that primarily focuses on serving women and girls who are caught in the sex industry. They provide trauma-informed holistic care to exploited and trafficked persons through prevention strategies, exit strategies, and safety planning. The BridgeNorth team builds bridges between resources, systems, leaders, governments, and the people they exist to serve.
Participants of BridgeNorth’s programs receive customized support that directly meets their needs. For example, strong legal support is often a necessity for individuals leaving sex trafficking. BridgeNorth provides access to exceptional legal services for women and girls so that they are aware of their human and legal rights and are not burdened by criminal records. This creates the opportunity for lives to be rebuilt, justice to be served, and personal life goals to be achieved.
Families are also profoundly affected by trafficking. When a woman or girl wants or chooses to be reunited with their family of origin, BridgeNorth integrates this goal into an exit strategy. This restores trusted relationships, decreases social and community isolation, and reduces the likelihood of further exploitation so that exit goals can be met with the help and integrated support of loved ones. BridgeNorth is regarded as one of the best Exit Strategists in Canada. Their team has the knowledge and skills necessary to provide a successful exit for sexually exploited persons from their traffickers and help them stay out for good.
When she can’t see a way out, BridgeNorth does. BridgeNorth’s mission is to restore the inherent dignity and value of sexually exploited women and girls by meeting their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. They help individuals experience freedom from sex trafficking in Canada through survivor-led support, prevention, education, and advocacy.