Exploitation and Awareness: Human Trafficking in Windsor-Essex
A 23-Year-Old Man Facing Human Trafficking Charges in Windsor
A 23-year-old Ottawa man is facing human trafficking charges after police in both Ottawa and Windsor worked together to track him down. He was arrested in Windsor on Wednesday.
University of Windsor students are using their fourth-year capstone project to bring awareness to the human sex trade happening right in Windsor-Essex. Their documentary will debut Friday.
What is human trafficking?
A trafficker deceives a victim by making false promises of love, good jobs or stable lives and then forces them into situations of sexual exploitation, forced labour or other forms of commercial exploitation. Victims can be anyone, but they are most often women and children; persons who do not have lawful immigration status in the United States; Black people and other persons of color; runaway or homeless youth; and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI+) individuals.
Human trafficking is most prevalent in countries that are low and lower-middle income, but it also occurs in high-income countries. Regardless of income, being in a country that experiences political instability; enduring systemic racism; or having a mental disorder, such as PTSD, increases the risk of being trafficked. Similarly, being involved in gangs is associated with increased vulnerability to being exploited by traffickers. Human trafficking also happens in so-called “corridors,” which are geographical areas that include multiple urban centres.
Why is it happening?
The panel addressed the reasons people fall into situations of exploitation and the need for prevention. These include economic pressures, interpersonal violence, gangs, and community and societal violence, as well as natural disasters that leave people displaced, without transportation or ability to earn an income, disconnected from support services and exposed to traffickers who exploit them.
Victims are lured into their traffickers’ networks through a variety of means, including force, fraud and coercion, or false promises such as employment, marriage, or a better life. Over time, traffickers often increase their control of victims by depriving them of money and IDs, restricting movement, limiting social interaction, monitoring personal hygiene and changing work conditions.
In addition, specific communities and individuals are at greater risk of becoming victimized, including newcomer, Aboriginal, refugee and LGBTQI+ people. This is because they are often marginalized in society, and lack a trusted support network to help them seek safety and assistance. They may also have a lower capacity to recognize and report abuse.
What are the signs of human trafficking?
Vulnerable individuals are targeted and manipulated by traffickers using false promises, drugs or alcohol. They are isolated from their families and friends, denied access to money or ID documents, forced to work without payment, and often moved around so that police cannot find them. They may be threatened, beaten or even physically assaulted by their traffickers.
A common strategy of traffickers is to build trust with victims and develop a relationship, essentially grooming them for their eventual role as a prostitute or sex worker. This bond, which is often called a trauma bond, can result in victims being reluctant to leave their traffickers out of fear or out of loyalty to them.
Between 2011 and 2021, nearly nine in ten victims of police-reported human trafficking knew their trafficker. This is consistent with research (Altun 2020; Howard et al., 2015; Zimmerman & Oram, 2016). This type of isolation can contribute to functional isolation for people who have been trafficked.
How can I help?
If you suspect that someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, the best thing you can do is report it. Mandated reporters can call the Child Protection Hotline, which can connect victims and survivors with services and supports, and help them stay safe.
A national hotline is also available, which can be accessed via text and operates twenty-four hours a day. It is a free and confidential service that can provide information, resources and referrals for victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking.
Legal Assistance Windsor and WE-Fight have been working with about 100 local victims of exploitation, which can take many forms beyond prostitution, including arranged marriages, bogus work pretenses or a lack of access to education and employment opportunities. A grant from Caesars Windsor has helped to launch WE-Fight’s new “House to Home” program, which will provide each survivor with a package of household goods to start their recovery.
Other efforts to raise awareness include promoting the new Anti-Human Trafficking Consortium and establishing a national network of specialized Crown prosecutors, who are experienced in prosecuting human trafficking cases. And a partnership with Vermont 2-1-1 is providing streamlined access to community resources for people who need them.