Protocol Abroad: UNICEF Queens Conference on Human Trafficking

Jessica Craig is currently participating in a St Andrews Abroad exchange at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario in Canada.

Human trafficking is a complex and devastating phenomenon in both the global north and south, affecting as many as 21 million people worldwide and generating around £18 billion in profits for its perpetrators.

On 10th February 2018, UNICEF Queens held their annual UNICEF in Action conference, which this year explored the many facets of human trafficking as a complex domestic and international issue. UNICEF Queens promotes the aims of UNICEF Canada at Queen’s University, and aims to further students’ education on issues affecting children across the world and to empower them to take action.

Attending as a visiting exchange student, this was a unique and highly informative opportunity to learn about the impacts of human trafficking in Canada, and internationally.

The event featured a keynote speech from Deputy Director for International Programs at UNICEF Canada Simon Chorley, a series of workshops led by members of the Kingston community, and a panel discussion featuring professionals whose work relates to human trafficking prevention and assistance of victims. The event culminated in a case study exercise, which allowed delegates to apply what they had learned throughout the day, to identify the circumstances which constitute human trafficking and to assess the support needed by victims of different forms of trafficking.

A child sex worker takes a break in Cebu City, Philippines.

Source: International Labour Organisation in Asia and the Pacific.

Defining Human Trafficking

One of the priorities of the event was to unpack the complex definition of the phenomenon of human trafficking. Simon Chorley spoke about the varied forms of human trafficking, and how it is best defined by its acts, means, and purpose.

Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, transporting, or harbouring victims for exploitation. It is non-consensual, making it different from smuggling, and is achieved by means of deception or coercion. This can take the form of forced sex work, domestic service, labour exploitation, involuntary marriage, organ harvesting, and forcible participation in militia groups. It is often described as modern-day slavery.

Human Trafficking in Canada

I was shocked to learn that human trafficking is occurring in the community where I am living. Victims of trafficking can originate from both within and outside Canada. Around 2/3 of human trafficking cases in Canada begin in Ontario and incidences are concentrated in southern Ontario, proximal to the border with the USA. Here, cities are connected by the 401 Highway which permits the rapid transportation of victims to elsewhere within the province, across Canada, or beyond its borders. Most of the cases in Ontario involve sex trafficking – which accounts for around 70% of cases here in Kingston – but labour trafficking is also occurring.

Trafficking is not confined to crime-hotspots but may be taking place under the noses of the public, making identifying the signs crucial. Kingston Police Sergeant Brad Brooker and Detective Constable Kyle Brown told us that hotels are increasingly being used as venues for forced sex work, leading Kingston Police to provide hotel staff with training on identifying the signs of someone that is a victim of trafficking.

They also attested to the difficulties police in the local community face in supporting victims of trafficking. Victims of sex trafficking must want to exit the sex trade for police to be able to help them, but often perceive a romantic relationship with their “pimp” which makes them vulnerable to ongoing manipulation and exploitation.

Human Trafficking Internationally

This event helped to dispel myths and issues surrounding the imagery of human trafficking. Human trafficking is not just an issue of sexual exploitation, nor does it affect just women and girls. Men and boys can be victims too. We heard numerous cases of labour exploitation, and how the stereotypical association of trafficking with sexual exploitation can obscure labour exploitation and limit resources for victims.

Human trafficking can affect people from all walks of life – not just in the world’s poorest. Simon Chorley also spoke to the difficulty of helping victims who come from the developed world, as the majority of resources are geared towards victims from the global south. He highlighted the case of a British girl named Sophie Hayes, who was trafficked to Italy by a man she believed to be a close friend, and the difficulties faced in supporting her after she escaped her situation. She co-founded the Sophie Hayes Foundation, which provides support to victims in the UK to help them regain their confidence and build bright futures after human trafficking.

What can be done?

During the panel discussion Reena Kukreja, an independent documentary filmmaker whose work has dealt with women’s issues, child labour, and migration in India and Canada, highlighted the importance of creating a narrative about social factors which can permit different forms of trafficking. She suggested that as consumers we should be aware of where our goods come from and opt for brands of food and clothing which are produced without forced labour. These include UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certified products, which support sustainable farming, forestry, and tourism. You can visit the Stop the Traffik Campaign for more information on sourcing goods which have been responsibly produced to prevent the funding of human trafficking through our consumer goods.

Furthermore, Doug van der Horden, a local activist and High School Counsellor in the Kingston area highlighted the need for preventative measures and early intervention. The circumstances which make an individual vulnerable to trafficking are complex and varied, so a variety of strategies are required. In Doug’s work, this involves educating young people on the dangers of grooming (often a precursor to sex trafficking) and teaching both pupils and teachers in schools to identify the signs of human trafficking.

However, it is important for the general public to be aware of the signs and to be empowered to contact the police in an emergency, or to otherwise report suspicious behaviour. The Modern Day Slavery Helpline provides advice for those who wish to educate themselves on the signs of trafficking, and on how to report it.

Additionally, collecting data is vital to intercepting and preventing human trafficking. The STOP APP smartphone application can be downloaded by anyone in the world and can be used to report any behaviour suspected of being linked to human trafficking. It is not a replacement for alerting authorities if a crime is witnessed, but it collates data on trafficking to help disrupt human trafficking and prevent future cases.

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