LEDUC – Human trafficking is increasingly turning into a domestic activity with as many as 15,000 people becoming victims every year in Canada.
"At least 50 per cent of the trafficking that's going on in Canada is happening to Canadians and, of that, 80 per cent are women and half of those are underage girls," said David Bouchard, a secular Franciscan from Red Deer who has devoted himself to the cause.
"The average age for women to enter the sex trade is 13. Most of these are forced situations. They are not making that choice at 13 years old."
Up to 14 months ago, the RCMP had documented 49 cases of human trafficking before the courts. Out of these, 44 were cases of domestic trafficking.
Most human trafficking victims are recruited through the Internet or by an acquaintance, Bouchard said. "Police say victims are often groomed, manipulated and coerced to enter the sex trade. Some victims of domestic human trafficking have been underage girls exploited through prostitution in exotic dance clubs and/or escort services."
Bouchard, a member of Magdalene House Society, an organization that assists victims of human trafficking, gave an update on human trafficking at the 91st annual convention of the diocesan Catholic Women's League at Leduc's Executive Royal Inn and Conference Centre April 19-21.
Magdalene House Society, which Bouchard helped set up, is fundraising to set up a facility to assist victims of human trafficking. Victims will be provided with legal assistance, counseling, medical care, educational programs, employment training and other support services at the facility.
Bouchard said organizers of human trafficking rings target the unsuspecting and the vulnerable. They're manipulated into giving up their lives and then, once isolated, they are sold.
In one case, three 17-year-old males were charged with human trafficking for recruiting 13-to-15 year old girls into the sex trade.
In another, an 18-year-old woman was lured by a 16-year-old girl to an Edmonton motel where she was held captive and forced into prostitution by two men.
"Those being recruited into the sex trade are not your average person that you would see attending school," Bouchard said. "A lot of the people that end up in a trafficking situation come from dysfunctional families."
Many of the victims are promised the opportunity to be fashion models and they get into the trafficking. "They'll make them a promise that sounds very lucrative and then they will end up being victims of pornography."
Some young girls are simply abducted and then trafficked. Many are held under forcible confinement with no identification documents.
Bouchard called on his audience to report suspicious activities to police. He said three years ago an Edmonton resident got concerned about the increasing traffic around her neighbour's house and decided to call the tip line. "When police arrived they found a brothel operating there, right next door."
The resident could have ignored the signs but chose not to, Bouchard said.
Currently, people who have escaped exploitation by traffickers are set up in emergency shelters, where they can only stay for 14 days.
"People who have been trafficked need a long term secure environment where they can heal," Bouchard said, noting that the facility Magdalene Society is planning will house trafficking victims for 180 days. "We are the only one in all of Canada right now that will actually care for both men and women."