Although human trafficking is a criminal offense in Canada, very few victims and survivors of human trafficking for the purpose of sexual or labor exploitation choose to report such offenses to law enforcement authorities. For many survivors, denouncing their experience of trafficking can be complicated, not to mention that the legal process can be long and can sometimes provoke further trauma.
Whistleblowing can empower survivors; their experience is put into words and the trafficker must answer for his actions. However, each person has their own story and the right to choose whether or not to report. We discuss several factors below that could affect a person’s decision whether or not to turn to law enforcement.
** Please note that this post is not intended to discourage reporting to the police; rather, it is intended to raise awareness of the many complex and unique factors that survivors consider when reporting their trafficking experience.
Misperceptions about human trafficking:
Trafficking in persons is often mistakenly associated with a crime committed against children only, which only occurs in other countries or which involves kidnapping and closely resembles the Hollywood movie The Kidnapped ( Taken) starring Liam Neeson. Unfortunately, these false perceptions shape the interventions of service providers, law enforcement and the public in the fight against this crime and negatively affect the collective ability to identify victims of trafficking and understand their experiences. Moreover, because of these false perceptions, victims of human trafficking do not always realize that what they are experiencing is in fact a crime and therefore do not report it.
Traffickers can threaten to inflict injury and physical assault on victims, their families and loved ones if they report their exploitation.
Fear of retaliation for related crimes:
Sometimes traffickers force a victim to commit other crimes, such as theft or drug offenses. In some cases, a trafficker may ask the victim to recruit others for the purpose of trafficking. These measures may therefore deter some survivors from turning to the police, as they fear being the subject of criminal charges. When the victim is a foreign national in Canada and does not have stable immigrant status, the risk of deportation may also prevent them from disclosing the abuse suffered. Click here for more information on the links between immigration status and human trafficking denunciations.
Perceptions of police authorities:
Victims and survivors of human trafficking do not always trust the police. They have sometimes had negative interactions with the police in the past, or that was the case with their community. The trafficker may also have told them lies, which will prevent them from reporting to the police. It is important to note that mistrust of the police and the subsequent reluctance to speak out against exploitation and abuse disproportionately affects foreign nationals, members of the LGBTQ2S community, people of color and indigenous peoples who are of ethnic origin. communities with a history of conflict with police.
The emotional burden of the justice system:
According to Statistics Canada, it takes approximately 358 days for human trafficking charges to go through the court system. Therefore, for almost a year, a trafficking survivor must be emotionally and physically prepared to meet the needs of the court process, to testify and to undergo cross-examination. Not only are survivors forced to retell the most traumatic parts of their story, their memories of those moments are often questioned and their character called into question.
Moreover, more often than not, the judicial process does not lead to a conviction of the accused. Survivors may therefore feel even less safe and more reluctant to speak to the police about their situation.
Relationship with the trafficker:
Some survivors of human trafficking have an intimate relationship with the person who exploits them. They sometimes have children with her and live under the same roof. The survivor may also still depend on the trafficker for basic needs, such as shelter and food. Due to the bond between the trafficker and the survivor, it is very difficult to lay charges even after leaving the relationship or the exploitative situation. In some situations, the trafficker is a guardian or a relative. Therefore, the survivor, who may experience feelings of loyalty or love, will have difficulty reporting the crime.
The stigma and shame of disclosure:
Victims and survivors of human trafficking often experience stigma and shame as a result of their experiences. We often ask them “why didn’t you just go?” “. The process of human trafficking is complex and it can be extremely difficult for victims and survivors to understand what they have gone through. Click hereto read our post on why it’s so hard to just leave. Additionally, in some cultures, gender roles and stigma can exert pressure and it is often riskier for the safety of survivors to speak out about a trafficking situation than to try to bury that experience and trauma. It is also possible that the victim or survivor feels that he or she consented to their exploitation or that they deserved the violence suffered; traffickers are skilled manipulators and can make the victim feel responsible for the exploitation. No one can consent to be trafficked and no one “deserves” such a fate.