For Michaela, it was a battle with mental health at 17 which led her to become homeless, vulnerable and the perfect target for Canada’s sex trafficking industry. “Someone who endured human trafficking has been through the unspeakable — verbal, sexual, financial, physical and psychological abuse — is present in almost every case,” she said. For her own safety, Global News is not using Michaela’s real name.
After being sent to a facility that was meant to improve her mental health, Michaela said it made her feel isolated and with no family support, she left. She then ended up in a youth homeless shelter. It was at the shelter where she said she met a girl who pretended to be her friend as a way to trick her into the sex trade.
“Later on I found out she was recruiting girls to get herself out,” she said.
Michaela, who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ2 community, said the manipulation started slow, first becoming friends with the girl, hanging out together at the mall and out for dinner. She said her new ‘friend’ even pretended to be romantically involved with her to gain her trust. “One night we asked to stop at the youth shelter if we could take a night out and go party and that’s when everything changed for me,” Michaela said.
The next thing she remembers is waking up in a hotel room with her friend gone and two men there instead. She said she never saw the girl again. At a time of feeling all alone once again, Michaela said one of the men offered to help her leave the shelter, get a driver’s license, and even pay to get into the right mental health facility. All of this, she would soon find out, was the latest in a stream of broken promises to manipulate her.
“The one guy ended up trafficking me for about a month, and then I got away and then it kind of happened somehow that I came back and it was another month until I actually ran away with the little money I had,” she said. Looking back, Michaela said they targeted her vulnerabilities, being alone, struggling with mental health, and being homeless.
“It’s hard as a young person wanting to fit in or to feel loved or even to have the new Gucci bag or to be offered a luxurious lifestyle and get out of the situation that you’re currently in,” she said.
“Whether that be an abusive environment, mental illness, homelessness, or even as simple as wanting to meet up with someone who promised to offer you the world, this is how they choose their next victim to ruin their life.” Michaela was trafficked for a second time earlier this year at 23. “It’s very hard to even talk about it, but to say it and admit it to myself that I kind of had a gut feeling,” she said.
“It was not a very honest thing, just literally preying on my mental health and I was very mentally unwell and I didn’t want to go back into the shelter system.” She said a friend offered her a place to stay and help pay off her debt which was all a way to take advantage of the situation and put her back up for sale on apps used to purchase sex. “I saw red flags, but it was better than being on the street,” Michaela said.
She said she was once again sold for sex and it was only when she got the courage to threaten to call the police several weeks later that she was able to leave. Because of her experiences, Michaela said suffers from PTSD causing her to have blank spaces about her time being sexually assaulted.
Kelly Franklin, chief executive director and founder of Courage for Freedom, told Global News youth are usually sexually exploited for at least two years before adults in their lives realize what’s happening and intervene. Her organization is a non-for-profit focused on delivering frontline support for sexually assaulted minors and raising awareness about sex trafficking.
“We’re seeing an increase in it becoming an issue that is younger and younger,” Franklin said. Franklin’s organization is based in Ontario and works with victims, including Michaela helping them process their trauma. She said it can sometimes take victims up to 18 times before they are able to permanently leave trafficking.
Published on: November 30, 2020
Retrieved from: https://globalnews.ca/news/7487725/children-sex-trafficking-canada/