Diane Redsky is the former project director of the National Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada and now the executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre in Winnipeg. Barbara Gosse is executive director of the Canadian Coordination Centre Preventing Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation.
This story is part of an ongoing Globe and Mail investigation into the hundreds of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada
As The Globe and Mail's series The Trafficked has highlighted, indigenous women and girls are over-represented in sex trafficking in Canada. Traffickers not only target indigenous women and girls as a result of root causes that contribute to their vulnerabilities, but also because there is a market to buy and sell them for sex and abuse, including some exploitative Canadian websites and magazines. The 1999 Report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba rings true today: young aboriginal women are objects with little human value beyond sexual gratification.
The issue of sex trafficking of indigenous and vulnerable women and girls is part of a broader issue of women's inequality and violence against women. In Canada, we continue to turn a blind eye to attitudes of entitlement that allow the buying and selling of women and girls. We have an obligation to recognize the fundamental evil facts and act on them.
Forcible confinement, slavery, rape and the continuing child abuse inherent in sex trafficking needs to be clearly recognized as the result of entitled behaviour that regards children, girls and women as commodities. We need to ask ourselves who is buying women and girls and end this practice, because without demand, there is no crime.
Despite these facts, the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls found "hope" in organizations that deliver promising practices across the country to survivors; they meet women/girls where they are at, recognizing and responding to the effects of all types of trauma as well as employing women with lived experience as the experts. Indigenous women and girls are benefiting from specialized services, and many are beginning to emerge as survivor leaders.
Between 2012 to 2014, the task force held consultations with service providers and survivors, undertook research and released a final report, including 34 recommendations to end sex trafficking in Canada (see www.mamawi.com ). This leading work provided the impetus for a national co-ordination centre to be launched this spring.
We know from law enforcement and front-line service providers that survivors in Canada number in the thousands, perhaps tens of thousands. The conviction rate is abysmal – traffickers are pleading guilty to lesser charges that will never be reflected adequately in statistics. We are motivated to solve this by stronger data collection and co-ordinated access to resources through a national hotline. The National Judicial Institute also has an opportunity to train judges, as no survivor can get justice without a knowledgeable judiciary. Current laws need to be upheld and further strengthened. Licensed and unlicensed establishments where trafficking is rampant continue to proliferate: strip clubs, illegal massage parlours and body rubs. We need to do more to stop predators from entering our children's bedrooms through computers and other electronic devices, and to educate our youth, their parents and guardians on the horrible associated risks and realities.
All Canadians can be part of the solution:
– Support survivor leaders/champions to speak out on the realities of the sex industry in Canada. Their voices are often silenced by a well-financed sex industry;
– Understand the impact of root causes for indigenous women: colonization, abuse in residential schools, poverty, violence against women and girls, and how racism, classism and sexism directly contribute to further exploitation and harm;
– Advocate for the federal government to renew the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking in Canada and invest more in victim services;
– Help end the demand. We need a balance of prevention programs, meaningful interventions for offenders, criminalization for perpetrators and public education and awareness to ignite a culture shift that no longer normalizes the buying and selling of women and girls.
Changing systems can start by changing the conversation. We need to have courage and identify the facts and provide action that fits these crimes. We need to recognize why we are at this place, how we got here, where we want to be and put actions in place now to get us there.