Loly Rico, director of FCJ Hamilton House in Toronto, says Catholics must be concerned with the effects human trafficking have among their neighbours.

Prevention of trafficking begins with education

  • May 25, 2011

TORONTO - Traumatized, guilt-wracked victims of human trafficking don’t often disclose what’s happened to them. Despite the reluctance to talk, Toronto’s Covenant House deals with a constant stream of both international and domestic victims, said social work manager Helen Winters.

“We don’t know how many youth who come in here have been involved in trafficking. We know they come through here with trauma, with addictions,” Winters said of the downtown Toronto agency that aids young street people. “The tip of the iceberg are the ones who actually reveal to us.”

Lately, many of the international victims turning up at its doors have come from Africa. There have always been aboriginal girls off reserves and runaways from small towns. In some ways it’s an old story. Men who hang around shopping malls, hostels and bus stations offering a little kindness and attention to vulnerable, lost young women.

“Often the pimps will act like a boyfriend. They’re special. They (the pimps) will wine and dine them. Then they use and abuse them,” said Winters.

Given the population of 4,000 young people per year who fill up Covenant House’s 94 beds, it’s not surprising that prostitution, male and female, is a big part of the story. But it’s not the whole story.

“It’s not always for the sex trade,” Winters said. “It can be for employment, the sweatshops, illegal, underground, black-market jobs where they are either paid very little or they are paid nothing.”

Society’s response has to go beyond throwing people in jail after the damage has been done, said Sr. Mary Corbett of UNANIMA International.

“We have a responsibility as a nation to be enacting legislation that can really make a dent in that practice,” said Corbett. “And not only that, to establish mechanisms in our country that are not just reactive in terms of the criminal aspects of it, but that we also establish good social protection mechanisms and supports for people who end up here in that capacity.”

At UNANIMA the sisters don’t care if people pass prostitution off as inevitable or the world’s oldest profession, or that people call them naive for even trying to stop the demand for sex for hire.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained... If we don’t work at it, it will never happen,” said Sr. Catherine Fergusson, UNANIMA’s coalition co-ordinator. “If we don’t try to work to change the things that are not right, that are unjust, we won’t make those changes. So what if I’m naive?”

Prevention is going to take much more than trained social workers with resources and programs. Fergusson talks about social and cultural transformation.

“Start with an education that is based completely on the dignity of all persons,” she said. “We do have a very patriarchal culture that we all live in... women are often viewed as weakest, second class, not as important and as property. When that happens, essentially the male can feel it’s his right to do whatever he wants with women and children.”

From all the pretty girls who decorate advertising to a million hours of streaming pornography on the Internet, patriarchal culture is injecting itself with sex with the avidity of an addict. Fergusson wants to detox our sexual culture.

That has to start with adult conversations about sexuality and relationships. Sr. Sheila Smith, a Religious of the Sacred Heart completing her PhD in Christian Ethics at Ottawa’s Saint Paul University, believes the Church is the right place to start talking.

“We really need to have a spiritual or religious analysis,” she said. “If we really believe in the Church as the people of God, I think there are some adult conversations that can happen. I think people are hungry for these conversations and they want the Church to speak out in a mature way on these issues.”

Smith has been researching human trafficking and working with an Ottawa coalition, PACT-Ottawa, since 2003 trying to assist victims. She would like to see a national strategy to address human trafficking, but she thinks Canadians have to examine themselves and question the kind of society they have built.

“Along side any kind of real, concrete help, any entrenchment in law, we have to look at who we are, our values,” she said. “This is where the churches can really help, because this is where we deal with our value systems and what we accept as good and right in our way of living.”

We need to stop thinking of human trafficking as a remote, exotic crime, said FCJ Hamilton House director Loly Rico. Rico is seeing more and more cases from suburban massage parlours.

“Good Catholics have to be concerned with what happens in their neighbourhood,” she said.

Good Catholics should also be worried about what could happen to their children and grandchildren, said Fergusson.

“What speaks to people is the devastation that it wrecks in the lives of their sons and daughters, their children, their grandchildren,” she said.

“We’ve got so much commodification of human beings and so much buying and selling of sex – so much that it really is a modern form of slavery.”

Part one of our human trafficking special feature, "Commodification of human beings" was published on Saturday May 28.

 Read about how Canada  exports its demand for sex-for-hire in the supplementary feature below.

Canadians must join in the battle against ‘evil’ sex tourism

- By Michael Swan, Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sex tourism is all too prevalent, with men from countries like Canada travelling to other nations to pay for sex. (CNS photo/Walter Hupiu) Canada is a source country, a transit point and a final destination for human trafficking. But when it comes to sex, it doesn’t stop there.

Canada exports its demand for sex-for-hire in the form of tourism.

“Canadians travel in large numbers to the Dominican Republic, especially in winter,” said Carleen McGuinty, child protection policy advisor to World Vision. “If you’re walking along the beach and you see a 14-year-old girl offer herself to an older man, understand that perhaps that child is not doing this by choice. And you can report this crime online.”

McGuinty would like to see Canadians making more use of

Southeast Asia finds itself in a life-and-death struggle with the sex tourism industry for the lives of its children, according to Fr. Bonnie Mendes, regional co-ordinator with Caritas Asia.

“Canadians, like all others, must become aware of the complex problem and do whatever they can to fight the evil,” Mendes wrote in an e-mail to The Catholic Register. “They must help the right groups and fight the mafias that promote evil tourism.”

Governments in the region can’t solve the problem on their own, Mendes said.

“It’s a huge problem,” he said. “Faith leaders have to promote better ethical principles and moral education should get top priority.”

From airlines to hotels, there are entrenched economic interests that passively benefit from sex tourism.

“Big business allows prostitution to grow and uses it for their own ends, to make more profit,” said Mendes.

The Ecumenical Coalition on Tourism based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the support of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences in the fight against sex tourism.

“The evil must be fought,” said Mendes.

The good thing about the ecumenical efforts is that they’re regional. National efforts aren’t always effective when it comes to human trafficking.

“You have this push down-pop up effect. If one country becomes quite strict — they have tough laws and tough penalties — the problem will simply shift elsewhere,” said McGuinty.

An effective policy has to look at the root causes, including entrenched poverty.

“We need to make sure our CIDA funding is going to access to education, access to safe migration, access to protection measures that are implemented in communities, and access to birth registration,” said McGuinty.

Ultimately, we’re dealing with a very old crime.

“Slavery is an issue that has been around forever,” McGuinty said. “It’s sad to admit that it’s alive and well in 2011. Christians, particularly in Canada, have a long tradition of taking in immigrants and supporting refugees. By doing that we’re preventing new Canadians from falling into traps and helping those who are leaving situations of trafficking and exploitation.”

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