Education and the justice system are major battlegrounds in the campaign to protect young people from human trafficking and rescue those it has claimed.
Dr. Lavell-Harvard, who studied aboriginal academic achievement for her PhD at the University of Western Ontario, says indigenous young people should have more support when moving to some place new for school or to look for work.
In many cases, she says, traffickers “are preying on our best and brightest who want a better life.”
She would like to see services similar to those provided to refugees: help to navigate banking, health care and services. “People don’t realize that, if you’re coming from a remote, isolated First Nation, you might as well be coming from a foreign country.”
One preventive measure perhaps worthy of wider use currently reaches about 27,000 students in B.C. every year. Coquitlam-based Children of the Street Society, created to fight sexual exploitation and human trafficking, visits schools to conduct workshops called Taking Care of Ourselves, Taking Care of Others for students beginning in Grade 5.
If prevention fails, however, reforms to the justice system could reduce the impact of trafficking by improving tense relationships, both with the police and with courts not well equipped to deal with it.
A key element is helping trafficked women come forward and providing them with better support when they do.
The 2014 national task force recommends changing the Criminal Code so that the offence rests more on what a perpetrator has actually done than on a victim’s ability to perform on the witness stand.
Getting a woman to testify about forced sex work “is terribly daunting,” says Staff Sergeant James Clover, former head of the Edmonton Police Services vice section.
“It’s almost unfair. Ultimately, what does she get out of it? She’s more scared. She might not even be eligible for victim assistance because she [may have] a criminal record.”
Also, according to frontline workers, judges urgently need to be briefed. Currently, they receive little or no special training, either on the complex nature of the crime, the severe, long-lasting impact it can have or on the great need for sensitivity. A federal court judge in Alberta, for example, now faces an inquiry over remarks he made during a sexual-assault trial. “Why,” he asked the victim at one point, “couldn’t you just keep your knees together?”
Natalie, in Winnipeg, says attitudes also must change on the demand side. “I sometimes think the people who are exploiting these youth … should have a list to publicly shame them,” she says.
“There are people who are professionals who are doing this … and they really care about their reputation.”
Published on February 10, 2016