The rate of human trafficking in Alberta looks like it has increased about 500 per cent over the past five years. This isn’t because there’s more cases, but because of an increase in awareness. Professionals say that more awareness is the best way to combat trafficking – but there is much more that needs to be done.

When it comes to sex trafficking, Scharie Tavcer, a professor at Mount Royal University says that poverty is one of the main factors that pushes people into sex work. “Also, violence against women, culturally, pervasively, systematically in society. It permits the use and abuse of women,” she says.

Victims of human trafficking often begin with problems at home, as well as bullying. This was the case for Larissa Crack, an activist and a survivor of sex trafficking.

“When I was 14 I ran away from home. Home was emotionally abusive, and I wanted to be absolutely anywhere but where I was,” says Crack “I was called ‘useless’ and ‘stupid’ at home, then went to school where I was [also] bullied.”

Eventually Crack hitchhiked from Kelowna to Vancouver, stopping just to panhandle for cash. This is where a man and a young girl found her and took her to a house where she began being groomed for the sex trade.

You lose yourself. You forget who you are.” -Larissa Crack

“We were partying almost immediately. There was a group of three to four girls my age and that made me more secure. I was introduced to crack. I was given many gifts. I had my hair done, nails done and was given nice clothes.”

Crack became a member of an often misunderstood group of people. Those being trafficked for sex can easily find themselves falling apart.

“You lose yourself. You forget who you are. It was like you’re a ghost and no one can see you in your own world,” Crack says, “people see the bruises, but more importantly they see you as a whore and deserving of those bruises.”

It wasn’t until Crack failed to appear in court for a previous charge that she was able to escape her situation. She credits the Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary with saving her life. Today she is the co-founder of an organization called Northern Women’s connection, a group for healing and supporting women in the sex trade, turning her experience into something that helps other women in similar situations.

The reason trafficking exists is because of the demand for quick and easy sex. The buyers come from every walk of life, and could be anyone you know.

“We don’t talk about demand much but it is all sorts of men of all sorts of shapes and sizes and economic backgrounds, employed, unemployed, uncles, husbands, fathers, you name it and it’s men of all ages,” says Tavcer.

According to Statistics Canada, data collected by police forces across the country, the rate of cases in Alberta have gone up from 0.05 to 0.26 per 100,000 people in the last five years. But this is actually a positive, because of increased public awareness more cases are being brought to the attention of authorities.

“I do all of the public education pieces for the Calgary Police service around sexual exploitation of adults and youth and human trafficking on the order of 30 some presentations a year,” says

Detective Paul Rubner. “As a result I think we’re identifying potential victims far more than we ever have.”

Tavcer comments on the statistic of the increase of trafficking in Alberta.

“Well, you have to be hesitant to make that statement that it’s increasing because the numbers you’re looking at are cases that have been brought to the attention of police.” Tavcer says, “So it could be just more cases are coming to police attention, which means more police could be aware, more victim agencies are around, more people are coming forward.”

Crack also says that sex trafficking is becoming more widely known in Alberta, thanks to the media.

“Finally people are seeing this as exploitation,” says Crack, “finally women aren’t being blamed for being abused.”

“People don’t even know that this is happening in our backyard. That right now, at Chinook or Sunridge [Mall], a girl is being groomed.”  –Larissa Crack

Crack believes that widespread public awareness is one of the best ways to combat the trafficking of women and girls. By being aware of the signs and the risk factors, victims of sex trafficking can’t be overlooked as easily.

“People don’t even know that this is happening in our backyard. That right now, at Chinook or Sunridge [Mall], a girl is being groomed,” says Crack.

Rubber says that increased awareness could be the result of “people now starting to notice indicators that they may have previously been aware of but didn’t know that they were there.”

Signs that indicate that an individual may be being trafficked vary from case to case. Clues can range from isolation from family and friends, drug use where there wasn’t before to a change in demeanour. A mistrust in authority is common in trafficked foreign nationals, as they are often threatened with deportation.

“It’s hard to predict who’s going to have a higher likelihood of coming in contact, so it’s just a matter of giving people the tools to recognize that if they do come across it,” says Rubner.

anicholson@cjournal.ca  cwoods@cjournal.ca 

Editor: Nathan Woolridge | nwoolridge@cjournal.ca