They may not be strangers
Human trafficking has been identified in all Canadian provinces. The majority of the time, this crime isn’t being carried out by wanted criminals or strangers passing through town with dubious agendas. It’s happening at the hands of people in our communities that we know, live next to, or interact with.
90% of those who sexually abuse children, know their victims; they could be family friends, babysitters, neighbors, peers, or family members.
Familial trafficking is the abuse or exploitation of a victim at the hands of someone they know. Familial sex trafficking, specifically, involves traffickers (who sell victims for profit) giving offenders sexual access to victims or pornography in exchange for drugs, money, or something else of value. Kids are the prime targets of this heinous crime, and their perpetrators are often right in front of us, hiding in plain sight.
How Does Familial Trafficking Differ From Child Sexual Abuse?
Familial trafficking has a commercial element to it. A child trapped in a trafficking situation could experience repeated, frequent, and ongoing abuse—from which the trafficker will profit. Of course, there’s some overlap; child sex trafficking is always child abuse, but not all child sexual abuse is trafficking. A child trafficking charge carries a more severe sentence for perpetrators so it’s imperative that it’s properly identified.
Who Are The Traffickers?
In a Journal of Family Violence study sample, in which all traffickers involved were family members, nearly 65% of the traffickers were the mother of the victim, and 32% were the victim’s father. Almost 60% of familial trafficking victims have ongoing contact with their trafficker, making it exceedingly difficult for children and youth to remove themselves from harmful situations and protect themselves—both physically and psychologically.
Traffickers who victimize their family members or those close to them take advantage of existing power dynamics. They seek extensive control over their victims’ lives. They know their victims well and understand exactly what makes them vulnerable. This position allows them to manipulate and groom their victims to do exactly as they’re told.
Perpetrators often don’t look like criminals; in fact, they can even be highly involved members of the community. Familial traffickers are intentional about building relationships within their communities. They often hold positions of authority, are friendly and extroverted, strive to hold positions of power, and want to be well loved.
Don’t Identify As A Victim
In absence of Canadian data, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys in the United States will be sexually abused before turning 18. Yet only 12% of child sexual abuse is reported to authorities.
Many victims don’t identify as victims or come forward to speak out about what’s being done to them. They may fear the police or humiliation, feel guilt and shame about what they’ve experienced, or falsely believe what’s happening to them is their fault.
In order to maintain control, traffickers often threaten the lives or safety of victims and their victims’ loved ones. They also train children to avoid discussing their trafficking experiences with anyone. Victims are often fed lies and manipulated to keep quiet. If you tell the police, you’ll be arrested and thrown in jail. Abuse happens to everyone, especially girls; your friends just don’t talk about it. This is happening to you because you deserve it. You’re worthless and no one else cares about you.
What Can We Do?
Trust your intuition. If something feels off or wrong or if a child shows any signs of sex trafficking, take a closer look. Teachers and school personnel are the group most likely to come into regular contact with victims of familial trafficking—but are by no means the only one.
If you suspect a child you know is being trafficked by a family member or anyone else, file a report with local law enforcement, contact Caledon Dufferin Victim Services or the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline. Do NOT contact the family, and never attempt to confront a suspected trafficker or rescue a victim yourself; you could make a situation much worse for the child and put yourself in serious danger.