Should schools be teaching students about sex trafficking in Canada?


Dear Adele,

Our teenager recently came home from school and told us she had been involved in a class discussion about sex trafficking in Canada. We understand the need for sound sex education but were surprised and taken aback that this topic was being taught in our local high school. Do you think this is appropriate for young adolescents?

Taken Aback


Dear Taken Aback,

A few years ago, a 15-year-old former client I will call Ashley, contacted me via Facebook/ Messenger asking for some help. I had not spoken to her in many years so was quite surprised that she connected with me. It seems she had had an argument at home and her folks told her to take her things and get out. Angry, Ashley stuffed a backpack with a few personal possessions and stomped off to a bench in a city park. There she met up with an old acquaintance, with an empathetic listening ear. The friend offered her a place to stay overnight and some food and drink. Within hours the beautiful, innocent teenager was drugged, stripped and immersed into a sex trafficking ring in Eastern Ontario. Her ordeal lasted several weeks until she seized on a fortuitous opportunity for escape, contacted police and was placed in hospital. She connected with me to determine resources, a solid path to a safe future and counselling.

This personal experience put me in contact with police and a myriad of resources in Ottawa to help young people who become victims of sexual exploitation through trafficking, a crime the extent of which I was unaware. Let me share with you some facts to increase your awareness of this crime and then you can decide for yourself whether education on this topic is appropriate for our adolescents in the sex education program in Ontario schools.

According to Statistics Canada, Canadian police services reported 1,708 incidents of human trafficking between 2009 and 2018. 45 per cent of incidences reported by police as human trafficking were not processed in court with any charge of human trafficking. 90 per cent of human trafficking cases in the census occurred in metropolitan areas. 97 per cent were female. In 47 per cent of the cases there was no accused identified. 81 per cent of the perpetrators since 2009 were male. One third of the victims were trafficked by a current or former intimate partner. Most were trafficked by someone they had trusted. 92 per cent of victims knew the person accused of trafficking them. 27 per cent suffered physical injury. 32 per cent of cases involved crossing the Canadian border. 51 per cent of cases involved persons over 25 years of age, 43 per cent involved persons between ages 18 and 24 and 6 per cent involved youth ages 12 to 17. Victims disproportionately came from vulnerable and marginalized populations. Charges in cases of human trafficking have been generally increasing over the past decade despite trafficking being largely an underreported, under detected and hidden crime.

According to an article in the Chronicle Herald (August 21, 2019) entitled ‘Ontario government unveils new sex ed curriculum,’ sex trafficking is a modern form of slavery that involves “recruiting, transporting, transferring, receiving, holding, concealing or harbouring, or the exercise of control, direction or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit or facilitate the exploitation of that person”. Human trafficking is prohibited by law in Canada, involves forced labour or sexual exploitation, and is done against the will of the victim. In 2019 the Canadian government developed ‘The National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking’ as a five-year plan focused on prevention, protection, improved identification, prosecution, improved coordination across the country, and empowerment of victims and survivors of human trafficking.

According to an article by COMSOC August 31, 2020 entitled ‘Ontario launches new tools to help prevent human trafficking’, over two thirds of police reported that human trafficking violations in Canada happen in Ontario. More than 70 per cent of the victims are under age 25 and 28 per cent are under age 18. The average age of recruitment in sex trafficking is 13 years old. Young women and girls are most vulnerable as well as indigenous persons, adolescents in care and the LGBTQ2S community.

Ontario Solicitor General Sylvia Jones writes, “Human trafficking is a serious crime that is on the rise across Ontario and we are committed to holding human traffickers accountable. Building education and awareness of how human trafficking happens, can help protect our children from predatory activity.”

According to Janice Dickson in a Globe and Mail article entitled ‘Schools inconsistent in teaching students about sex trafficking in Canada’ dated February 24/21, not one province mandates the teaching of sex trafficking. However, experts who work with victims and survivors say sex trafficking should be taught in classrooms because schools are where kids are recruited and the young people need to recognize recruitment techniques. Since 2013, sex trafficking has been mentioned in the Social Science and Humanities curriculum in grades nine through 12. Since 2019 sex trafficking has appeared in the grades 1 through 8 Health and Physical Education curriculum. Government funding has been provided for the development of appropriate lesson plans on this subject but they are not mandatory.

Executor Director of White Ribbon, Humberto Carolo reports that educators are sometimes not aware that young people are recruited and trafficked in schools. He feels it shouldn’t be left to teachers to decide to address this issue.

The Globe and Mail commissioned a Nanos Research survey on sex trafficking and found that 59 per cent of Canadians support mandatory education about sex trafficking in schools and 36 per cent of Canadians somewhat support mandatory education in schools. 47 per cent of Canadians support mandatory education about sex trafficking in grades seven and eight and up and 35 per cent somewhat supported it in these grades. 88 per cent of Canadians are aware that sex trafficking is happening in Canada but are unsure what kids learn in schools. While the Ontario provincial government has committed to address sexual exploitation with a $307 million comprehensive anti-human trafficking plan, improved public awareness education, and legislation, the missing piece according to Megan Walker Executive Director of London Abused Women’s Centre is mandatory curriculum.

Unfortunately, some teachers never raise the issue. They may be unaware of the importance of this education or they may feel lacking in training or knowledge to present it. Some teachers bring in outside resources to talk about it. Others teach the danger signs, cover the skills to avoid being recruited and talk about resources to help. The aim is to stop the crime before it occurs.

Canadian Resources include: 

  • The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline. The hotline is a confidential multilingual 24 hour a day service with a response and referral system. It is victim-centered and trauma-informed. The phone number is 1-833-900-1010

Ottawa resources include: 

  • The Ottawa Police Service’s Human Trafficking Unit: 1-800-2921168 •
  • Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking: 613-7696531 •
  • Victims Services: 613-2382762                    

There you have a thumb nail sketch of the crime of sex trafficking in our area. The Human Trafficking Unit in Ottawa dealt with 45 cases in 2018. The police officers I spoke with to assist Ashley indicated it was an unchecked problem in Eastern Ontario.

So, Taken Aback I leave you to form your own opinion about the necessity of education around sex trafficking. I think it is needed knowledge for our teenagers and we are fortunate indeed to be having it addressed by our educators in schools, our politicians in government and our parents in their homes. If only a handful of women and girls are saved such a traumatic experience, the time and effort put into deterring such heinous crimes will be worth it. I wish I could have saved my sweet client Ashley from her abhorrent experience simply through enhanced awareness and knowledge about the potential for sex trafficking, delivered in the safety of a sex education classes in an Ontario school.

Best to you Taken Aback.

Sincerely, Adele

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