Written by: LP Penner, SARAH Counsellor
In Canada, we mark February 22, as Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It is a week after Valentine’s because sex trafficking and beliefs around romance are more related than we might think. Valentine’s day is often seen as a day for big gestures, expression of love and stories of fairy tales. In sex trafficking situations often, a romantic partner starts by love bombing to put someone in a spell of being seen, spoiled and connected before exploiting them. We are taught to imagine human trafficking as kidnapping and far away, but it happens here. 90% of Canada’s Sex Trafficking Victims are Canadian (Source: JoySmithFoundation.com) It starts off seeming romantic when it’s anything but.
Love bombing: is a way of manipulating someone to trusting and believing in the relationship fast. It can include lavish gifts that no is not an acceptable answer to. It may be non-stop compliments and convincing you that you are soulmates or no one else could be your person. It can also slowly build to constant connection, lots of texts, phone calls, video chats and every free moment together, and not respecting boundaries.
Steps of sex trafficking:
First someone is going to put in the work to attract the person they want to exploit. This can include finding them online or “happening” to meet in person or even through friends or loved ones. They then act like they are just getting to know someone but are testing to see if they can push boundaries or if the person might be vulnerable. Vulnerabilities include anything that might mean connection and being seen are going to be extra important for someone, like “no one gets me” or having gone through the system and not felt helped. They know that love bombing is more likely to be effective. Note, no one is immune from wanting connection
This can look like building a relationship or a life together. It is steps taken to build trust and tie someone to you. Someone might make commitments, so the person feels like “we’re in this together” or start using drugs together so problematic substance use keeps you connected.
Coercion and Manipulation
This is where behaviour starts to change and can feel scarier. All the information gained in the luring and grooming stages are used against the person to make money off them. They may point out the previous gifts or the money spent and say they are owed the money made from selling sex. They may use abusive behaviours to make selling sex and giving them the money feel like (or simply be) the only option to survive and/or stay connected to this intense relationship. They may also make friends, family and helping services feel scary so someone won’t reach out. They could also work hard to make the person believe they are tainted forever by the actions they were manipulated into doing.
Once someone is lured, groomed and coerced it is almost impossible to feel like there are ways out of the exploitation. Yet, people have survived and been able to find healing.
Options for helping someone once they are being trafficked can feel heartbreaking but can be simple.
- Don’t try to rescue them
As almost every choice is removed by the trafficker having someone barge in and try to save the day actually looks the same as the first stages of trafficking. This can push someone further away from exit, increase risk with their trafficker and be retraumatizing. Instead, it is important to offer support and options to the victim.
- Be patient and non-judgmental
When being manipulated and abused someone is unlikely to see the same choices we see when not involved. Being patient and open can be a way to show them more choices without it feeling like manipulation.
- Be a safe person
After being taught over and over that everyone else is unsafe, every little bit of proof that this is wrong makes a difference. Try to hide shock as they story tell and focus on projecting safety and compassion. Trauma teaches us to be good at reading people and not to share things if it feels unsafe or like the person can’t handle it.
- Have boundaries and stick to them
It may be tempting to do everything in your power to be helpful but that can lead to burn out, having a consistent person makes a big difference, feeling like a helper did everything they could to help and couldn’t handle it hurts.
Labour trafficking happens here in Canada too.
Some questions to ask if you are concerned about someone else’s job or your own.
- Does the job offer seem too good to be true?
- Are there threats of deportation or calling police about immigration status?
- Does the employer hold passports or other personal identification?
- Does it feel like loved ones would be in danger if long hours aren’t worked or lower wages aren’t accepted?
- Does the job require relocation without upfront payment?
- Are the work conditions inhumane or terrible?
- (Source: Public Safety Canada)
Human Trafficking Resources:
Manitoba Trafficking Hotline:
National Human Trafficking Hotline:
RCMP Manitoba Dispatch: 204-983-5420 or 911
Sex Trafficking Resources:
Survivor’s Hope Crisis Centre
Presenting at a IERHA hospital or RCMP detachment and requesting a SARAH Worker.
SARAH Workers – are trained advocates that provide support 24/7 to individuals reporting a historical or recent sexual assault at RCMP detachments and emergency departments.
SARAH Counselling and Support Program. Provides on-going one-one-one counselling and support groups for those affected by sexual violence. Call the office at 204-753-5353 or email LP at LP@survivors-hope.ca or Candice at Candice@survivors-hope.ca for more information.
Sage House, a program of Mount Carmel Clinic, is a health, outreach and resource centre that provides a wide variety of services to street-involved women (including transgender women). Staff members at Sage House provide support, resources and advocacy regarding education, addictions treatment, EIA, housing, child and family services, justice and harm reduction. Programs and workshops, facilitated by staff and peers, are also available.
Sage House also has a street outreach team that connects with women currently working in the sex trade, providing harm reduction services, crisis intervention and support.
An initiative led by Ka Ni Kanichihk, in collaboration with the 24/7 Safe Space Planning Committee, which consists of: Manitoba MMIWG2S+ Coalition of Families, the Lived Experience Advisory Committee, Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre, End Homelessness Winnipeg, Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and the West Central Women’s Resource Centre.
The space is named in honor of Velma Orvis, who worked closely with the community until her passing in 2020. It is our hope that the space embodies the unconditional love which Velma showed to everyone she met.
Velma’s House is a place of safety, comfort and connection for all women. It is low barrier, meaning there is no need to be sober to access services, which include:
Access to traditional medicines, elders, ceremony, and cultural ways of healing
Hot meals, to-go lunches, water, tea, coffee
A safe place to rest, warm up or cool down
Hygiene and harm reduction supplies
Laundry and shower facilities
Extensive support with employment, housing, and navigating systems such EIA and CFS
Drop In: 154 Sherbrook Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm, Weekends 1pm to 8pm
Isabel Daniels, Program Coordinator: firstname.lastname@example.org, 204-560-3008
Anisha Saddler, Support Worker: email@example.com, 204-560-3007 (main line)
Please direct potential funding opportunities or financial donations to:
Amy Graham, Project Manager: firstname.lastname@example.org
Weekly support group for women leaving the sex trade
Call Kim at 204-226-9138
(Note due to COVID 19 intake is temporarily closed)
Winnipeg Police Counter Exploitation Unit
These are plain clothed officers (not in uniform) whose priority is the safety and wellbeing of those involved in the sex trade. Their focus is on connecting those selling sex to resources and arresting those buying sex.
Family Violence Shelters:
Manitoba Family Violence Crisis line – By calling the crisis line you will be connected to a shelter closest to you. The Crisis line is available 24/7, they are a resource for all genders, and can answer questions even if someone is not ready to leave.
Some of the resources can be excellent for staying hidden from a pimp or exploiter but as some folks experiencing sex trafficking may have religious trauma it is important to see if a religious organization would feel safer or less safe before going over those resources.
If Christianity feels right for the survivor the following Christ Centered organizations may be helpful in hiding and healing:
Dignity House – is a ministry support for women exiting the sex trade.
Application to be a resident: https://dignityhouse.ca/contact-dignity-housec-o-1977-norris-road-winnipeg-mb-r2g-4c1call-1-855-812-0136-email-admindignityhouse-ca/
Inner City Women’s Ministries – “Women of Faith” offering shelter in very hidden location, Bible Studies and Community.
Julia Drydyk ( February 6, 2022) Human Trafficking Awareness Day comes a week after Valentine’s, The Scarborough Mirror retrieved from https://www.thestar.com/local-toronto-scarborough/opinion/2022/02/06/human-trafficking-awareness-day-comes-a-week-after-valentine-s.html#:~:text=On%20Tuesday%2C%20February%2022%2C%20Canada,it%20comes%20to%20sex%20trafficking. February 7th 2022
Cindy Lamothe (Dec 16, 2019) Love Bombing: 10 Signs of Over-the-Top Love, Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/love-bombing#takeaway
Nova Scotia Crime Stoppers (September 27th, 2018) Stages of Human Trafficking – steps traffickers take to control their victims retrieved from https://crimestoppers.ns.ca/2018/09/stages-of-human-trafficking-steps-traffickers-take-to-control-their-victims/
Public Safety Canada (No Date Listed) Labour Trafficking, retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/public-safety-canada/campaigns/human-trafficking/labour-trafficking.html