The numbers for human trafficking in North America are staggering. For what feels like a “third-world” problem, the prevalence in first-world countries is unacceptable.

2 million children are trafficked globally each year.

Hard to believe? It’s easy to look the other way and pretend this isn’t the ginormous problem that it is. As a society, we find this topic uncomfortable and depressing. As a result, we tend to skirt around it: ignoring the fact that every day, children who aren’t even old enough to go to prom are being trafficked and forced into sex slavery.

The Industry

Human trafficking is the recruitment and transportation of individuals for the purpose of controlling and exploiting them — often sexually. Sexual exploitation is the exchange of sex for food, money, shelter, drugs, alcohol, or even approval — and it is the most common form of human trafficking.

The industry itself generates a whopping $32 billion annually. Traffickers can earn up to $300,000 per year, per victim. They can earn even more for younger victims. While some victims get to keep a portion of their earnings, often the trafficker will keep it all. For some, they think they are in a relationship with their abuser — and therefore do not feel wronged by giving them all their money in exchanges for “care”.


In Canada, traffickers will often head to large urban centres to recruit people. They’ll notice the ones with dirtier or older shoes, and can expertly pick out the kind of kids that will fall for their tricks. In an article for Global News, a survivor shares her story of a time she went to West Edmonton Mall to recruit girls:

“I was so uncomfortable doing it, I told that girl to slap me across the face because I knew I was being watched, and I knew I was supposed to try to get other girls… I said, ‘It’s going to save your life. You don’t want to come with us. Just slap me in the face and walk away.’”

It’s important to be aware of some grooming techniques that traffickers will use. They might have a good looking 21-year-old go hit on a 15-year-old girl. He’ll offer to take her places, and buy her things — and that’s all part of the grooming. No 21-year-old should be with a 15-year-old. He might take her parties, let her drink, get her drunk. She’ll pass out “and the next thing you know, she’s in a room and people are taking their turn with her. And then that guy’s, like, ‘Oh, well, do you want your Mom to know what you were doing last night?’ They’ll use that against you.” (Global News).

Online Exploitation

Social media is a dangerous playground. You never know who’s lurking in the shadows. Traffickers will approach children online, sending them pictures — asking for pictures in return. Roughly 1 in 7 children are sexually approached or solicited online. Youth think they’re safer online because it’s hidden. But if you meet up with someone you met online, you have literally no idea what to expect. “We have a lot of women that are just simply gone and with the online stuff, it’s so much harder to find them on there.” (Global News).

Many traffickers will find clients online as well. They’ll post ads on popular social media sites and wait for clients to come.

“I would watch the pages during those times and keep track of the numbers and it was astronomical. When you look at them on a normal night, we might have 30 ads, and when you look at them on a night when we have Grey Cup, we might have 250 ads,” (Global News).

Who’s at Risk?

Most children who fall prey come from situations where they have already experienced abuse: mental, physical, or sexual. Additionally, these kids usually have low self-esteem and a lower level of education. They might be trying to escape a bad family situation by running away from home. This puts them at monumental risk for homelessness and turning to prostitution as a way to make ends meet. Pimps target teens in group homes, by promising them gifts and a sense of belonging.

While the majority of trafficked individuals are young girls, human trafficking can affect anyone.

“Exploitation doesn’t care what race colour or creed you are. All it cares about is if it can get you.”(Global News).

In Canada, the average age of recruitment is 13-14 years old and traffickers are usually males of various ethnicities aged 19-32.

What are the Signs?

Here are some signs that may be present in victims of human trafficking. Recognizing these signs in an individual may be the first step to getting them out.

  • Not having the freedom to make decisions.
  • Having to get rides everywhere.
  • Having someone speak for them in public.
  • May have excess cash.
  • May constantly be fearful.
  • Avoiding eye-contact.
  • Visible signs of drug addiction.
  • Dressed age-inappropriately.
  • Branding tattoos of pimps name or symbol.
  • Signs of physical abuse or malnourishment.
  • Distrustful of law enforcement.

What can you do?

If you need help right now – call 911.

You can find your local number call this Human Trafficking Hotline. They provide 24/7 support and help to anyone being trafficked or affected by trafficking.

The first step in fighting against human trafficking is awareness. It’s not turning a blind eye to the crisis that is ravaging our nation’s children. But to ultimately end human trafficking, we need to bring the traffickers to justice. We need to teach vulnerable children how to recognize a trafficker and to steer clear of them. There are many organizations working today, so see if you can get involved and make a difference. There are many things you can do, but the question is… will you?


Child sexual exploitation in Canada: survivors reveal a terrifying reality

The Shocking Truth of Child Sex Trafficking

Human Trafficking RCMP Findings

Human Trafficking in Canada

Signs of Human Trafficking