'It's a hard thing to come forward': Calls for more action on human trafficking in N.S.
The mother of a teen survivor of human trafficking says hearing of recent trafficking charges laid in another case in Bridgewater, N.S., brings back memories of the moment she learned the same thing had happened to her daughter.
The woman's identify cannot be revealed because doing so would serve to identify the victim of a sexual assault, but she spoke to CTV News Monday to raise awareness about the problem.
"I learned about it when I discovered that people that she was hanging around with were not the usual friends," she recalls.
Two people, a man and a woman, were convicted in her daughter's case in 2019. But that still hasn't brought closure.
She's now one of a number of family members and advocates calling for better solutions.
"It's a hard thing to come forward and break that silence," she says.
"I feel like we are so behind other provinces when it comes to doing more."
2020 data from Statistics Canada, identified Nova Scotia as having the highest per capita rate of human trafficking in the country, at one case for every 100,000 people. The national average is 0.5 per every 100,000. The province makes up six per cent of all cases nationally.
"The majority of people who are exploited and trafficked, it is from somebody they know," says Charlene Gagnon, advocacy manager with the YWCA Halifax. The organization spearheads the Trafficking and Exploitation Service System Partnership, an inter-agency network that helps survivors of human trafficking and their families with programs, outreach, and support.
Gagnon says part of that work involves helping parents and caregivers recognize the warning signs of human trafficking, which often starts with a young person being groomed by a perpetrator, who offers attention and gifts, giving what may seem like affection.
"If the youth has an excessive amount of material items, or is getting a lot personal grooming done, and it's very expensive and they don't have the means to pay for it," says Gagnon, "that would be a warning sign."
If the person starts going on unexplained trips, such as to Halifax or Moncton, with people parents don't know, Gagnon says that's another possible sign.
"We all have a responsibility to say, 'let's understand human trafficking,'" says Jeanne Sarson, "let's understand the degree of harm that goes on, and that includes torture."
Sarson, along with colleague Linda MacDonald, have been talking to human trafficking and sex exploitation survivors since the 1990s as part of their work in human rights. Their book, "Women Unsilenced"explores the effects of violence on women and girls who have experienced crimes such as trafficking.
Sarson and MacDonald say organized crime is at the heart of human trafficking.
They say stopping the crime means much more than prevention.
"When we think of organized crime," says Sarson, "the people involved, it's because they're making money. When you 'sell' another human being, people are paying for that. Demand is fueling the money that goes to the pimps or the human traffickers, and if that money dries up, they'll go away."
"The buyers are the one easy target to reduce human trafficking," says MacDonald, "and we are certainly not doing enough in Nova Scotia, we're not doing enough in Canada, and we are not doing enough globally."
While there are cases in which human traffickers are prosecuted, MacDonald and Sarson would like to see those who buy sex from young women and girls apprehended and charged as well.
MacDonald says she would also like to see the places where the crimes happen, such as hotels and motels, become part of a chain of awareness so trafficking is reported to police.
"There are flyers that hotels can put up and say that they're very aware if organized crime, like human trafficking, occurs on their premises, that they will report that," adds Sarson.
"We can shape the culture in Nova Scotia to what we want to do."