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.

  • Poverty or economic instability
  • Limited access, barriers to education, jobs, social, and government services
  • Social isolation
  • Marginalized/racialized groups
    • E.g., LGBTQ+, Indigenous communities, and newcomers
  • Involvement in the justice system
  • Youth
  • Active on social media
  • Low self-esteem
  • Cognitive delays/learning difficulties
  • Physical disabilities
  • ABI (Acquired brain injury)
  • Addictions
  • Mental health illness
  • History of child abuse (physical, emotional, and/or sexual)
  • Exposure to violence, addiction, psychosis
  • CAS involvement
  • Family breakdown/instability
  • History of running away
  • Becomes withdrawn from family, peer group, and/or after school activities.
  • Exhibits uncharacteristic mood swings
  • Becomes secretive about boy/friends and their whereabouts
  • Responses to questions with rehearsed answers
  • Displays extreme protectiveness of younger siblings
  • Sudden outbursts, confrontational, angry
  • Becomes tense, nervous, and/or anxious
  • Begins running away/ increased absences from home for longer periods of time
  • Starts hanging out with new group of friends, mostly older, and develops a new persona
  • A sudden change in their appearance including new and expensive clothing and/or jewelry that they cannot usually afford
  • Starts hanging out in hotel rooms with friends
  • Adopts a street name and begins using a lot of “street” terms and slangs in their conversations
  • Makes mention of boyfriend using the name “daddy”
  • May have provocative pictures on social media and dating sites
  • Becomes very secretive when using the Internet
  • Has different taxi numbers saved into their cell phone
  • Visits a clinic to be tested for STIs on a regular basis
  • Has numerous cell phones
  • Has a fake ID and lies about their age
  • Limited memory of events and places they’ve been
  • Trouble sleeping at night due to anxiety and nightmares
  • Boyfriend appears to be very controlling and possessive of their whereabouts
  • Has limited knowledge of the area that they are residing in and speaks of frequent travelling and movement throughout the province
  • May have friends who are affiliated with gangs
  • STIs (Sexually transmitted infections)
  • Signs of mental health concerns, such as depression, self-harm, and suicide ideation
  • PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Substance use or increase of substance use/addictions
  • A decrease in one’s interest in their physical appearance/malnourished
  • Unexplained bruises, cuts, scrapes, and cigarette burns
  • Tattoo usually of a boyfriend’s name, often found on their back or neck

Myth #1

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

Fact #1

Some may be manipulated into believing it is their only option.

Myth #2

It only happens to girls.

Fact #2

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 for 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 #5

93% of sex trafficking victims are Canadian born (CWF) and of that 25% are under the age of 18. (Stats Canada)

Myth #6

They could leave if they really wanted to.

Fact #6

Often traffickers will use psychological tactics to maintain control over their victims, making them feel like it’s impossible to leave.