Human trafficking is widely thought of as a disturbing international crime that happens far away from British Columbia. But the sad reality is that human trafficking is an ongoing challenge right here in Canada, primarily in metropolitan areas including Vancouver.
According to a 2020 Statistics Canada report, Canada is confirmed to be a source, destination, and transit country for victims of human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labour. There were over 3,500 incidents of human trafficking reported to police in Canada between 2011-2021. Women and girls account for 96% of victims in these reported incidents; children and youth, aged 17 and younger, make up of 24% of human trafficking victims in Canada.
There are four types of human trafficking: sex trafficking, labour trafficking, forced marriage, and organ trafficking. Investigating each type of trafficking in Vancouver is the responsibility of the VPD’s Counter Exploitation Unit –the only investigative unit in British Columbia targeting and focusing on human trafficking and sexual exploitation. The unit has had numerous successes in bringing cases to light, which resulted in the successful prosecution of traffickers operating in the lower mainland with meaningful sentences. In some cases, the victims were underage with the youngest being 14 years old at the time of the offence. Despite these remarkable efforts, the Counter Exploitation Unit identified an opportunity to do even more to prevent future victimization and to support current victims.
In partnership with Family Services of Greater Vancouver and with support from the Vancouver Police Foundation and the TELUS Friendly Future Foundation, the VPD’s Counter Exploitation Unit launched a public campaign in 2020 aimed at young people to increase education around human trafficking. It is common that victims may live in fear and under the watch of their exploiter, which makes traditional outreach difficult. Research also documents that most young victims are contact and recruited on social media. As such, the Trafficking Awareness Through Technology Campaign features a highly targeted social media campaign aimed at youth and young adults.
The campaign targets 14-25 year olds in Vancouver who use Facebook, Instagram and SnapChat with a series of images, short videos, and text aimed to educate a demographic that might not have any knowledge that this is happening right here in their city.
“One of the primary objectives is to equip young people with the knowledge that may help them identify someone who could be preying on them in this way – we need to prevent young people from engaging with individuals like this,” explains VPD Detective Constable Karen Szeto of the Counter Exploitation Unit.
The Trafficking Awareness Through Technology Campaign used five simple, but thought provoking gifs used on Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook. Users would see the campaign in the form of paid advertisements on social media and be able to click through to the campaign specific landing page. Over the 12-week campaign period the landing page totaled 11,613 visitors, 2,166,907 impressions, and 19,210 swipes/ad clicks were generated in total.
“We want people, particularly youth, to think twice about engaging with someone they do not know online.”
“Our focus is on the language and grooming tactics used by individuals who are trying to lure others. Another primary focus is providing awareness and access to resources for potential victims and existing victims. Victims are more likely to reach out if the information is a few easy clicks away.”
As noted, human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation, harbouring and/ or exercising control, direction, or influence over the movements of a person in order to exploit that person, typically through sexual exploitation or forced labour. It may occur across international borders or within domestic borders. The exploitation can occur to people from all walks of life, from the most vulnerable to those with supportive family and stable socioeconomic backgrounds. Youths and young people are especially accessible on social media. The fact that young persons are being approached online is hard for parents and caregivers to prevent and detect.
What can you do if you suspect this is happening to someone you know?
- reach out to any of the resources below
- do not confront a suspected trafficker directly – contact local police
- identifying victims and reporting tips is doing your part to help – it is up to police to investigate
- if it is an emergency, call 911
HUMAN TRAFFICKING RESOURCES
The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking 1-833-900-1010, 24/7 toll-free
Onyx – A free, confidential, voluntary support service for youth aged 13-18, of all genders and all orientations, who are, or are at risk of, being sexually exploited. Young people can access Onyx on their own, through a friend, family member, MCFD, other youth serving agencies, their school or the police. Toll Free: 1-877-411-7532 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Children of the Street offers children, parents, caregivers, and service providers the information and practical tools they need to keep young people safe from all forms of sexual exploitation. Call 604-777-7510 or Email: email@example.com
Family Services of Greater Vancouver delivers victim services to women and children who have experienced domestic violence, sexual violence, and human trafficking.
Cybertip.ca takes tips regarding the online sexual exploitation of children under 18 years old.
Province of BC – The Office to Combat Trafficking in Persons Call 1-888-712-7974, 24/7 toll-free or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Crime Stoppers – Report crime anonymously online or call 1-800-222-8477.
If you would like to support VPD’s efforts to go above and beyond to combat human trafficking, or any other VPD officer-led community program, please donate online or call us at 604.717.3700. Gifts of all sizes can make a difference.
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.