Friday, February 20, 2009


Cops traumatize trafficked women

To the editor:

Re: "Human trafficking thrives under radar," Feb. 13.

The recent attention around 2010 Olympic Games trafficking issues ignores the fact that Canada has a long and illustrious history in human trafficking — the relocation of aboriginal peoples, indentured labourers for the railway, migrant farmworkers, live-in caregiver programs, and mail order brides are just some examples.

The Courier has fallen into a trap of sensationalizing human trafficking — simplifying a very complex economic system to supply cheap labour (sex work, too), in which most of us benefit. This is not an international war but a home-grown solution for exploitation.

Can you tell me for sure that the live-in caregiver working for your neighbour has not been exploited, working long hours or may be under age and cannot leave their place because of debt? Will you send the police in to find out?

As a volunteer-driven organization working with hundreds of women in massage parlours and other off street sex work establishments, Supporting Women's Alternatives Network has heard from the women themselves about their day-to-day realities, their goals and their challenges. Rather than the image of passive victims kept hostage in underground lairs, we more often hear about women trying to earn a sufficient income to support themselves and their families.

We also know that law enforcement can often result in retraumatizing victims of trafficking in much the same way that the criminal justice system can retraumatize victims of sexual assault. In fact, law enforcement can place victims and other women in further danger. As recently as 2006, the RCMP raided a number of massage parlours to "rescue" victims of trafficking from organized crime. Most of those arrested were Canadians or immigrants, working legitimately. Those found with questionable documents were sent back to their home country within a few weeks.

When we talk to women now, they tell us about their fears of police scrutiny, harassment and punishment. In our experience foreign-trained teachers, accountants and other professionals who cannot find employment in their fields resort to sex work to raise their families and live the immigrant dream.

– Cynthia Low, SWAN

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Created: February 23, 2009
Last modified: June 20, 2009
CSIS Commercial Sex Information Service
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