Domestic Sex Trafficking of Aboriginal Girls and Women

"Lisa" - A True Story

'Lisa", a 19-year-old Aboriginal female, was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as a child and was raised in child welfare care with her twelve siblings. Her birth mother committed suicide when Lisa was 14 years old and pregnant with her first child. In August 2009, she was lured to Ontario from Edmonton via an online dating site with the pretence of a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship. Upon arrival, she was taken to a Mississauga area strip club and introduced to a trafficker named Marlo Williams. He forced her into stripping, held her in his apartment and assaulted her. 

Lisa escaped and found her way to a youth shelter where she met Randy Estick. Despite promising to help her return to Edmonton, he forced Lisa, and another woman, into stripping and prostitution. The other woman arranged a "double date" with her regular "john" at a hotel in Vaughn, Ontario. He provided the women with alcohol and cocaine. Lisa overdosed and found her way to the hotel lobby washroom where she collapsed. The hotel staff called the police. 

This true story resulted in convictions against both traffickers, but for offences other than human trafficking. 

Lisa was assisted with services and supported by CEASE, an organization in Edmonton and by the Ontario-based organization Canada Fights Human Trafficking. Police in the York Region and Edmonton were instrumental in investigation and charging the perpetrators. Lisa's healing journey continues.

In both Canada and the U.S., Aboriginal women and girls appear to be uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking due to the long-term impacts of:

  • Colonization including the residential schools system, where generations of children were removed from their families and communities.
  • “Widespread poverty, low educational attainment, high rates of community and interpersonal violence, high rates of alcohol-related deaths and suicide, poor physical health, and corroded family and community relationships.” (Shattered Hearts)

In the following video, Rose Henry, an Aboriginal community consultant from the Coast Salish territory, addresses why Aboriginal people are uniquely vulnerable to human trafficking in Canada.

Vulnerabilities of Aboriginal Peoples

(Video runtime 02:09)

(Transcript for the Vulnerabilities of Aboriginal People video.)

In Canada, research has identified particular patterns in the way in which vulnerable Aboriginal women and girls are exploited:

According to Dr. Mark Totten, in research undertaken for the Native Women’s Association of Canada, “Sexual trafficking of Canadian Aboriginal girls and women is most common within the borders of Canada, particularly in the Prairie provinces. Trafficking networks are found in major cities (such as Vancouver, Winnipeg, Regina, Edmonton and Calgary) and in small towns in B.C. and the Prairies.

“There are patterns of city triangles across provinces (for example, Saskatoon-Edmonton-Calgary-Saskatoon; and Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver-Calgary). The oil rigs and mining businesses in Alberta have contributed to trafficking activity. When discarded or escaping, Aboriginal women end up in big city ‘hot spots’ such as Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, where they are at considerable risk of being victimized by severe violence and murder.”

The report, Protecting Sacred Lives by AMR Planning and Consulting, makes the following findings:

  • “There are about 400 children and youth exploited on the streets of Winnipeg each year, 70-80% of which are of Aboriginal descent
  • The process of grooming and prepping Aboriginal children and youth for entry into the sex trade is a long process that begins in childhood
  • Most participants have a family history that involves residential schools and/or the child welfare system
  • Youth are more likely to work the street trade than the indoor trade, working most often in cars and trick pads
  • Predators are typically middle to upper class white males”

Unique Vulnerabilities

“The types of trafficking to which Aboriginal women and girls are subject because they are Aboriginal are the types associated with discrimination, racism, poverty and breakdown of community.” Anette Sikka, in Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls in Canada.

  • Anupriya Sethi’s research concludes that “there are communities in the North wherein First Nations girls are sexually exploited and initiated into prostitution by their male and female relatives — brother, father, grandfather or an uncle…” and that “Another type of sex trafficking is organized (gang related) and sophisticated in the form of escort services, massage parlours or dancers.”

    Sethi also concludes that “Coercion and deception are the underlying elements in the various methods that traffickers use to force Aboriginal girls into sex trafficking,” and that recruitment occurs over the Internet, at airports, schools, bars, by traffickers posing as boyfriends and by other girls who have “no choice but to agree to the wishes of the trafficker due to fear, or in some cases, to meet their survival needs.” By forcing them to hitchhike, the lack of transportation options in some smaller and more rural communities also makes young Aboriginal girls “vulnerable to sexual exploitation.”
  • Lack of transportation options in some smaller and more rural communities means young Aboriginal girls hitchhike more, which may make them vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

In the following video clip from the documentary Enslaved and Exploited: The Story of Sex Trafficking in Canada, Canadian experts, including Anupriya Sethi, discuss domestic trafficking of Aboriginal girls and women for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

Video clip from: Enslaved and Exploited: the Story of Sex Trafficking in Canada

(Video runtime 04:39)

(Transcript for the Domestic Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls video.)

Human Trafficking in the North

Human Trafficking happens everywhere in Canada, including Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and the Yukon. Helen Roos, Chair of the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking and a researcher for human trafficking issues in Northern Canada, states:

First Nations, Inuit and Metis youth and women North of 60 are extremely vulnerable to trafficking.  Low levels of trust, general reluctance to report crimes, and lack of services contribute to difficulties in assessing the extent of trafficking in the North.  However, frontline workers, community members and survivors report that forced sexual exploitation occurs in various ways. 

Particular concerns for the North cinclude custom adoptions of northern children between vulerable families and predatory adults from further south in Canada and the U.S.A. We know of incidents of online solicitations for nothern babies for 'sale' and organs as well.  When Northerners come south to urban centres for medical appointments, substance abuse treatment or youth residential and/or jusitce programs, they are often easy targets by traffickers and considered an exotic commodity for the sex trade. We worry about youth travellingn south or internationally to Alaska and Greenland with older 'boyfriends', and survival sex is very common amongst youth and adults which can lead to vulnerability to trafficking. Human trafficking is definitely happening in the North. 

- Helen Roos, Chair of the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking

Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs

The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs received funding from Status of Women Canada to design a comprehensive strategy to address the issue of human trafficking in Aboriginal communities, particularly in Western Canada. As part of that plan, they have produced a booklet specifically for First Nations People called Stand Strong: Prevent Human Trafficking; Stop the Sexual Exploitation of First Nations People.


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