‘A crime that shames us all’

Published March 2, 2010

Last month, the Journal reported on human trafficking in an international context and on calls to action within the global Anglican Communion. This month, staff writer Leigh Anne Williams reveals how and why human trafficking is also happening in Canada.

Timea Nagy arrived in Toronto from Budapest in 1998, the victim of a trafficker who had promised her a job. Instead, she was forced to work in the sex trade. Using a Hungarian-English dictionary to ask for help, she managed to escape after three months and later testified against her traffickers in court. She succeeded in building a new life and in 2009, established Walk with Me, to help victims of trafficking.

Nagy says the focus should be on helping victims and preventing trafficking. She commends the new approach taken by the York Region Police in the Toronto area, who have started to view women in the sex trade as likely victims and concentrate on building the case against pimps and traffickers who threaten victims or tell them they will be charged. “If the girls read in the newspaper that the police are taking a different approach, that the girls are [considered] victims of trafficking and exploitation, more and more girls will come forward,” she says.

Det. Thai Trong says the York vice team is now trained to watch for signs that women have been trafficked and to build trust that the police can help them. “Now, every girl that we come into contact with, we try to identify [whether or not she] is independent…or being exploited, physically forced, mentally forced or even tricked,” he says. But building trust takes time, manpower and resources that are in short supply, he adds.

A report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) called human trafficking “a crime that shames us all.” Defined as “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them,” UNDOC’s executive director Antonio Maria Costa writes that it is more accurately described as “enslavement. Exploitation of people day after day. For years on end.”

Costa says that now, “after much neglect and indifference, the world is waking up to the reality of a modern form of slavery.” It is difficult to assess the scope of the problem because the crime, whether it is sexual exploitation, forced labour or forced marriage, is hidden, or may not be identified or reported. The UN estimates the number of victims at any one time at 2.5 million and says that trafficking generates tens of billions of dollars in profit for criminals.

Joy Smith, a Conservative MP from Manitoba who has worked with victims, has proposed a bill that would impose mandatory minimum five-year sentences for convicted traffickers that is now before the senate. In addition to asking that Canadians write to senators in support of her Bill C-268, she says churches can help prevent trafficking by educating children and families about the way predators operate.

Both Smith and Nagy say that children and youth who have run away or are otherwise separated from their families and friends are especially vulnerable, but it can happen to anyone, even within their own city. Predators approach as friends, Smith says. “Some of these people even target a girl, they become the boyfriend and the boyfriend sells the girl for sex, but what they all try to do is get these kids away from their networks,” she says. They “isolate them, take away their documents. They become non-people and once you shoot them up with drugs and prostitute them, they have no place to go. That’s how they do it.”

Concern that the 2010 Olympics might bring more traffickers to Vancouver raised the profile of the issue. “Our clergy and lay people are on alert in case any people identify themselves or seek help in any of our churches,” Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster said in the lead-up to the games. “If there are women trying to escape…if they turn to a church, we will be ready to help them and guide them to the appropriate authorities.”

Nagy says churches can also help support victims who have escaped. Victims may need clothing, shoes and money to help them replace their identification, return to their home or get started in a new life, she said.


  • Leigh Anne Williams

    Leigh Anne Williams joined the Anglican Journal in 2008 as a part-time staff writer. She also works as the Canadian correspondent for Publishers Weekly, a New York-based trade magazine for the book publishing. Prior to this, Williams worked as a reporter for the Canadian bureau of TIME Magazine, news editor of Quill & Quire, and a copy editor at The Halifax Herald, The Globe and Mail and The Bay Street Bull.

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