What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/ or exercising control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour. It is often described as a modern form of slavery.

The United Nation’s (UN) convention against transnational organized crime, the Office on Drugs and Crime, defines human trafficking in the Palermo Protocol (2000). Canada is part of the 117 countries that ratified the Palermo Protocol (2000). Canada has adapted it into the Canadian Criminal Code.

The following figures from the Palermo Protocol summarize its main content.

Action Means Purpose
  • Recruitment
  • Transportation
  • Transfer
  • Receiving
  • Harbouring
  • Threat
  • Force
  • Coercion
  • Abduction
  • Fraud
  • Deception
  • Abuse of power/position
  • Threat over loved ones
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Forced labour
  • Slavery or similar practises
  • Servitude
  • Removal of organs


  • The new age of consent is 16 years old, providing the person involved in the sexual act is within a five years age range.
  • If the person is in a position of power/authority over the individual, consent cannot be obtained.

Commercial Sex Work includes:
Indoor and/or outdoor prostitution, pornography, exotic dancing, phone sex work, web cam, nude modelling, escort services, brothel work, and massage parlor-related prostitution.

The filming, picture, possession, viewing, or uploading to the internet of sexual-content material of individuals under the age of 18 is guilty of an indictable offence.

What is exploitation?
Exploitation is defined by the Criminal Code section 279.04 which requires someone to fear for their safety or the safety of someone they know if they do not perform services requested.


  • Fear, anxiety, hyper-vigilance
  • Signs of depression
  • Signs of physical and/or sexual abuse
  • Substance use/abuse
  • Signs of poor health or malnutrition
  • Self harming behaviours
  • Inappropriate clothing in context to environment
  • Tattoos or branding
  • Sudden appearance of expensive item
  • Sexualized clothing or display of body parts
  • Sexualized behaviour
  • Increased or complete disconnect from family, relatives, friends, and supports
  • Increase absences from school
  • Increase aggressive or violent behaviour
  • Lack of access to personal ID documentation/cards, or possession of fake or stolen IDs
  • Involved in a controlling or dominating intimate relationship
  • Sudden increase in number of phone calls, texts, social media and/or electronic messages
  • Lack of voice, does not speak for themselves
  • Withdrawal
  • Power imbalance between the individual and her associates
  • Identification with sex work (“the game”)
  • Change from social groups into groups associated with sex trade
  • Increase in frequenting expensive bars, restaurants, or clubs
  • Appearance of drug paraphernalia
  • Use of slang and lingo associated with sex work
  • Adopting a street name or an alternative name
  • Increase in explicit or suggestive pictures on social media
  • Increase presence on market place websites
  • In possession of unusual number of sex related items or paraphernalia
  • Use of drugs or alcohol
  • Frequency in late night activities
  • Frequency in absences or classes skipped at school
  • Disregard for rules or instructions from parents/guardians/teachers/other authority figures
  • Distrust of police or law enforcement officials
  • Sexualized behaviour
  • Association with older individuals or peers
  • Exchange of goods, services, or any type of trade or compensation for sexual services

Myth #1

If they willingly work in the sex trade, they are not a victim of trafficking.

Fact #1

Many people are lured by boyfriends and deceived into believing they are in love.

Myth #2

It only happens to girls.

Fact #5

Although females make up a large percentage of victims, males can be exploited as well. The societal view that males are big and strong and can’t be victims makes it that much harder on males to come forward to report it. Often an exploiter will use psychological threats to control their victims.

Myth #3

They aren't a victim if it's their partner or a family member.

Fact #3

Many victims are lured by people they trust and love. Exploiters take advantage of this and may use emotional blackmail to keep their victims from leaving.

Myth #4

You can't be exploited if you are sexually active.

Fact #4

Placing blame on the victim tells the exploiter they aren’t wrong.

Myth #5

Canada doesn't have a sex trafficking problem.

Fact #2

93% of sex trafficking victims are Canadian (Canadian Women’s Foundation) and 25% of human trafficking are minors (Stats Canada).

Myth #6

They could leave if they really wanted to.

Fact #6

It becomes harder to leave when you think you love that person. Stockholm syndrome is often seen in victims of trafficking. Often a trafficker will use violent will use violence or threats to family or loved ones to keep their victims from leaving.