Recognizing human trafficking victims

Human trafficking, mainly for sexual exploitation, continues to be an issue in Canada.

Knowing how to recognize acts, victims and perpetrators of human trafficking can help everyone prevent and report this issue.

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Warning signs

A victim of human trafficking may show one or more of these signs:

  • Appears to be controlled by someone else (i.e. being escorted or watched)
  • Shows visible signs of branding or scarring (indicating ownership by the trafficker)
  • Shows signs of malnourishment
  • Doesn't speak on their own behalf
  • Doesn't have a passport or other ID
  • Isn't familiar with the neighborhood they live or work in
  • Is frequently moving or being moved
  • Has injuries or bruises from physical abuse
  • Expresses fear/intimidation through facial expressions and/or body language

Risk factors

Anyone can fall prey to a human trafficker. Traffickers are expert manipulators and predators. They are great at finding the vulnerabilities of potential victims. Some people are more vulnerable to traffickers due to things that are out of their control such as individual, family/community and societal factors.

These vulnerabilities, when added together, increase the risk-factors for certain people, including:

  • Migrant workers
  • New immigrants
  • Youth
  • Indigenous persons
  • Women and girls
  • People living in poverty
  • People living with substance use disorders
  • Survivors of abuse and trauma
  • People who identify as 2SLGBTQ+
  • People experiencing cultural or societal inequities

No one chooses to be exploited.

Recruiting tactics

Victims usually meet traffickers in person, online, or through mutual friends or acquaintances. Recruiters identify the vulnerabilities of potential victims, such as the desire to be loved or to belong, or an addiction to a substance. They may shower victims with love or entice them with the promise of a glamourous life. They could promise money, brand name clothes, work or education, financial aid for their family, etc.

Traffickers approach potential victims in many ways, including:

  • Pretending to be a potential love interest, friend or sponsor
  • Posting newspaper or Internet ads for jobs and opportunities
  • Threatening or kidnapping them
  • Connecting with them over social media

Controlling victims

To deceive victims, traffickers often promise a better or more glamourous life, or a relationship.

To control them, traffickers may destroy their self-confidence or use violence, including physical and emotional abuse, and extortion. They isolate and manipulate victims, and typically control their:

  • money
  • identification documents (such as a passport)
  • work locations
  • living arrangements
  • relationships

Traffickers' identities

Human traffickers could be anyone. They may approach potential victims in many ways, including pretending to be a potential boyfriend or friend. Traffickers may be:

  • transnational organized crime groups
  • smaller, decentralized criminal groups that specialize in recruiting, transporting or harbouring victims
  • small family criminal groups who control the entire operation
  • individuals working independently for profit or personal gain

In Canada, the majority of persons accused of human trafficking are males between the ages of 18 and 34.

Location of trafficking for sexual exploitation

Victims of sexual exploitation could be anywhere in Canada. Examples include:

  • Hotels and motels
  • Nightclubs or bars
  • Escort services
  • Massage parlours
  • Private residences
  • Short-term vacation/accommodation rentals
  • Online platforms

Location of trafficking for forced labour

Victims of forced labour crimes could be anywhere in Canada. Examples include:

  • Non-unionized industries
  • Restaurants
  • Hotels or in the hospitality industry
  • Commercial agriculture sites
  • Construction sites
  • Private residences
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