The Traffik Report

EP5: The dynamics of gender, youth and exploitation

November 11, 2021 Elvira Truglia & Fay Faraday
The Traffik Report
EP5: The dynamics of gender, youth and exploitation
Show Notes Transcript

This episode focuses on youth who are experiencing trafficking and sexual exploitation. The Traffik Report Collective gathers to ask: do we have to think about human trafficking differently when youth are involved? What does trafficking look like for girls and teens? And what has shifted during the pandemic? As front-line workers, how is advocating for youth different from advocating for adults? What are some of the challenges in supporting youth and what are some best practices?

Hosted by Elvira Truglia and Fay Faraday

Click on the 'Transcript' tab to read the show transcript.Link to the show transcript here.


Binesiwag Center for Wellness (Fort Frances) (services rooted in Indigenous holistic wellness and direct support to 2SLGBTIAA+ folx, women and girls)

Fort Frances Tribal Health Authority (Fort Frances) (supporting Indigenous women and youth)

Mouvement contre le viol et l’inceste (Montreal) (supporting survivors of gender-based violence)

Ndinawemaaganag Endaawaad Inc. (Ndinawe) (Winnipeg) (supporting Indigenous youth)

PLEA Community Services Society of BC (Vancouver) (supporting youth experiencing or at risk of trafficking in BC)

YWCA Halifax (supporting women and youth in Nova Scotia)

FCJ Refugee Centre, Youth Alliance Against Human Trafficking (Toronto) (support for migrant youth at-risk of and in conditions of labour and sex exploitation) 

National (supporting urban, rural, Northern & remote communities)

CCR Youth Network:  The Youth Network gives refugee and newcomer youth a voice to address challenges faced by newcomer youth and a space to share ideas on how to meet these challenges.

Canadian Women’s Foundation 

Girls Action Foundation has developed a series of publications and resources for girls' programmers and young leaders that are available to consult and download on-line. Viist their resource centre.

Join the conversation

We’re interested in your feedback and how the podcast can help build mutual aid and communities of practice.

We’ll keep building our resource library through our show notes. If you have a helpful resource you would like to share, write to us with your suggestion!

Contact us:

Twitter: @TraffikReport



Credits: This podcast is produced by Elvira Truglia and Fay Faraday. We thank the Canadian Women’s Foundation for their financial support which has made this work possible.


For all those listening to the podcast from coast to coast to coast on Turtle Island, we acknowledge that we are creating this work on the ancestral and unceded territory of all the Inuit, Metis, and First Nations people who call this land home.

 The Traffik Report
EP5: The dynamics of gender, youth and exploitation

NOTE: Transcripts may contain errors. Please check the audio before quoting in print. 

Elvira Truglia  00:35

Welcome to The Traffik Report, a podcast that navigates sex and labour trafficking in Canada. Join us as we close the gap between the image and the reality of traffic. My name is Elvira Truglia.

 Fay Faraday  00:47

And I'm Fay Faraday. On the show we have real conversations, share ideas about what's working on the ground, and build solutions for economic and gender justice. 

 Elvira Truglia  00:57

In earlier episodes, you met the Traffik Report collective, an amazing group of frontline workers and advocates who support people who have experienced sexual or labour exploitation. Today we're talking to members of the Traffik Report collective about what exploitation looks like for youth compared to adults, and how gender affects the dynamics.

 Fay Faraday  01:17

On the podcast. We've talked about how the umbrella term trafficking covers many different kinds of coercion. Forced labour and labour trafficking involving men typically involves economic coercion into hard physical labour. On the other hand, economic coercion of women, non binary, and trans people more often uses elements of sexual coercion, and it's the sexual coercion that draws the greatest attention, especially when you are involved. Here's who's at the Traffik Report roundtable today to help us break down this topic.

 Leah Woolner  02:03

So my name is Leah Woolner. I use the pronouns she and her. I work at a feminist sexual assault center named the Movement Against Rape and Incest which is based in Georgia or also known as Montreal. I work specifically with precarious status migrant women who have experienced different forms of violence and exploitation.

 Jessica Wilson  02:30

My name is Jessica Wilson. I work for Binesiwag Center for Wellness in Fort Frances Ontario I work with vulnerable people and specialize in supporting individuals that are exiting the sex trade or are being human trafficked or exploited.

 Camilla Ho  02:45

My name is Camilla Ho, my pronouns are she and her. I am the Program facilitator. At the Children of the Street program with PLEA Community Services. Children of the Street is based in Coquitlam BC and we raise awareness on issues of sexual exploitation and human trafficking of youth in BC through education, so we are a prevention based program.

 Lauren Mathias  03:07

My name is Lauren Mathias, and I am a program manager here at PLEA community services in the Vancouver coastal region.

 Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren  03:14

My name is Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren and my pronouns are she and her. I work for YWCA Halifax so we're based in Halifax regional municipality in beautiful Nova Scotia, but we do work provincially, and our projects are the project that I coordinate is called the trafficking and exploitation services system. So that project focuses on connecting with service providers and partners across the province of Nova Scotia working to address the commercial sexual exploitation of children and youth.

 Rebecca Alexander  03:41

My name is Rebecca Alexander, my pronouns are she and her. I work with the Elizabeth Fry Society of northern Alberta based here in Edmonton. I help Indigenous women who have experienced sexual exploitation find appropriate housing around the city.

 Elvira Truglia  04:06

According to government statistics, 97% of human trafficking cases reported to police in Canada involve women and girls. So it kind of begs the question around, you know, what makes women and girls vulnerable to trafficking?

 Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren  04:23

Whenever there's a question like this, I always just want to yell out patriarchy, and just leave it at that. So what what I mean is gender inequity. So we're talking about women and marginalized genders being oppressed. And so you know, and oppressed in the past and still experiencing that inequality today that we see in various different ways. So that's when we talk about prevention. So you know, having that lens but we also have to address those really large systemic root causes. And, you know, we can also talk about hyper sexualization, especially of young girls, and a folks in the queer community, and of folks in indigenous communities and people from, you know, with African ancestry, black communities being fed fetishized and those kinds of things. So all of those pieces fit into the conversation that also fit into that larger umbrella of patriarchy.

 Jessica Wilson  05:18

At a very young age, we start this grooming process. And maybe we're not even very aware that we're starting that grooming process, because we do put things on our children. And especially, like daughters, I think of my own daughters, you know, compassionate, you listen, you know, you go above and beyond, you're kind you're this, and then all these things are all into one. And then they get into situations where like, oh, okay, yeah, I'm complacent. I'm just going to listen. If that makes sense.

 Elvira Truglia  05:45

You're talking about gender roles and social roles, right? And also healthy relationships, and what we're teaching our kids about what is a healthy relationship? So you're totally making sense.

 Lauren Mathias  05:56

I wanted to add, like, I definitely feel that a lot of this is rooted kind of in the legacies when you think of like colonialism, slavery, patriarchy, capitalism, you know, the established location of wealth, power status, the intersections of power and privilege and how that intersects with women, minority groups, racial trauma, all of the above. So definitely, I would say, when you're looking at the root causes, those are systemic for all folks. But when we're talking about working with youth, does it have to be different? So in some ways, it's the same, because we look at maybe it's intergenerational trauma, and that's been passed down through families. And that's the situation that why that young person is there. We're noticing our differences in young folks. So not only addressing the gender roles, social roles, of course we educate our young girls and daughters differently than boys, but why is that? Why are we not educating boys to respect young women? Why are we hyper sexualizing certain roles and images and bodies and things like that. So a lot of that comes from education. But the other piece is that young people are experiencing things differently than perhaps an adult, so they're still developing their prefrontal cortex, they're still taking risks, they're still figuring out who they are. So of course, we have to adapt somewhat of a different lens and understanding of exploitation when it comes to young people than when we are working with adults, a young person, although may think they're consenting to certain situations, but of course, there's the age of legal consent of when you can consent to be in a sexual relationship with someone and there's numbers and all that. But when it comes to trading images, sending nudes, being involved in a situation where there's a power inequity, being involved in the sex trade, a young person cannot consent to those things. So absolutely, we have to look at what are the factors and what are the things that are causing that young person to be there, right? So of course, we look at the root the legacies of why we are in the position of where we are, which is the foundation for all kind of gender based violence or sexualized violence. But what is different for young people, especially now, amidst the pandemic, when we have so many young folks online, and there's like this deep dark web, where so much is happening, and we have no idea what folks are dialing into. 

 Jessica Wilson  08:35

I  also think we have to be mindful of like, it's normal to them, right? It's being so normalized. And that this is just everybody's involved or they know somebody involved or even like the music, they listen to the things they see. And just like Lauren said, like, whatever they're clicking on to say on the internet is so normal, and people are, I even know for myself with working with the youth in the schools. Some of the things that I were mind blown about or like the things that they would bring to me about like sending nudes. It was just oh, everyone does that. It's just it's just a thing like and like for me I would always teach like this is your body this is you know, you respect yourself. But to them it was like, whoa, but they don't look it as disrespect, I guess.

 Leah Woolner  09:20

But that also makes me think about internalized oppression and how other things are also normalized like I think about a lot of the women that I work with where it's been their exploitation has also been really normalized but in a different way. Like as a brown woman, there is an expectation that you're going to be treated like that by somebody who's a rich white person, you know, that they would talk to you like that because you have an accent, because you're dark skin, for all these other different reasons. And it's really, I don't know, it's really hard because it's so normalized that people don't even necessarily realize, not that they they don't realize but they don't necessarily even expect to be treated differently. And they might not even name it as something like, you know, what I would call racism or violence or anything like that. And even like on a systemic level, I think that we've really normalized, like the exploitation of migrant labour. No, that's built into our immigration system. And people don't even like they don't even bat an eyelash like doesn't even occur to them. So it's interesting, because we're talking about all these different things, even with different communities, but there's so many ways in which they intersect, and they overlap.

 Rebecca Alexander  10:32

And when we were talking about socialization, I was just thinking, as, like a black person of how I was very much minimized, whenever I would be louder, right? I was very much minimized to be quiet, or to kind of talk about Jessica was talking about like that socialization to be very compassionate. So even if you are assertive, you kind of get penalized that for that. So it's not necessarily your family. But this was experienced, I was experiencing this, that not this work an old job, where, you know, you don't smile enough or something like that, right? There's also that frame to with exploitation, when folks have this idea of who can be sexualized and who cannot be sexualized, in that way to experience sexual exploitation. And so I think that's why with if you're talking about women who, women of color, black women, indigenous women, women who are experienced disabilities, women who don't feel this cisgendered, white woman mold. Some people look at that, and just are like, well, you kind of experience sexual exploitation, I don't find you sexual or something. So it's kind of almost in this is twofold, I think experience, if that makes sense. 

 Fay Faraday  11:54

Yeah, certainly, as an Asian woman, I just have to call it the fetishization of Asian women as inherently sexual and, you know, to be used, right? You know, we started to get into a little bit about how things are different when we're speaking specifically about youth, since some of the analysis and the way we look at the issues doesn't translate so comfortably when we start focusing on youth. And I think Jessica and Lauren, you started to open a window into what does trafficking even look like with youth? I think that there's a silence around it that prevents people from understanding the dynamics. Tell us a bit more about what are the roots in? And what are the kinds of things that youth are encountering? And how has that shifted during the pandemic? We know that there's been a real increase in online exploitation. But what are you seeing with the youth you're working with?

 Lauren Mathias  13:11

Where we want to start first is like what is sexual exploitation? And what's that definition. So it's the exchange of any kind of sexual act for absolutely anything. So that can be material objects that can be for basic needs a place to stay a house, food, clothing, but more and more now we're seeing it for things like acceptance, belonging, connection, being a part of a group. And so that can be challenging to navigate, especially now we have so much access online to images to feeling connected to people without leaving the comfort of your own home or your own bedroom. But then there's also the exposure to so many things that seem normalized, like Jessica says, but aren't necessarily normal experiences that a young person should be exposed to or experiencing at such a young age. And I think that's what's the scary part is that we have younger and younger children involved with this being exposed to this, you know, as young as eight, nine, ten now that are getting involved in stuff and a lot of that has to do with support and supervision. Parents don't necessarily know where their kids are going online and how they're navigating that. And also, we've seen a bigger dynamic of where parents just want to be the friend, they don't want to cause problems. There's so much else going on. I think parents often have their own issues and trauma and things are going on that sometimes it's like, okay, just get on a screen, everybody has their space and we're okay to navigate that. So we're seeing you know, a lot of online exploitation and that can come under, you know, kind of a sugar baby sugar daddy type relationships where young people feel like they have sense over their own agency, and they're just like, I'm not exchanging sex. I'm just sharing a picture or sending a nude and I'm getting money for this. This is a source of income for me, without me actually having to engage in a sexual act with a stranger. We're seeing a greater increase in pure exploitation, where friends are saying, hey, I found this really cool way of making some money, we don't really have to do anything, we just like send a picture of our boobs or whatever it might be, I have a client list, you know, I have only a certain group of clients that I work with, it's safe, you can do it from your home. And now we're getting young people recruiting their friends, and normalizing this behavior. And I would say, you know, people, when they hear exploitation or things like that, it's like, oh, well, that must be happening in really poor communities, or happening in certain communities, or that's not happening in mainstream high schools, or where there's dual income or two parents or whatever the situation. But it's can happen to anybody in anyone and the the scary part is that the online exploitation, especially amid this pandemic, has increased significantly like it's like this massive dark figure of crime where we really have no idea the depths of that. And it's only until a teacher or a parent or a concerned neighbor, like intercepts a message or recognizes that young people are no longer involved in their normal activities, or aren't showing up to school or they're staying up all night long. And their sleep, hygiene, and routines are shifted. Those are the things that we're seeing, especially now there's tons of apps for meetups, there's Facebook, there's Instagram, like you'd be surprised what content can be shared and quote unquote, sold over an Instagram page or, you know, a sugar baby or sugar daddy site. And then the other piece is that we have a lot of young people who are just lacking a lot of confidence and self love and awareness. And there's a huge power dynamic where you know, a person who can see when a young female, let's say, I mean, it can be anybody. And we do identify, there's lots of non binary folks and gender fluid folks that we're working with as well. But you know, there's a lot of power dynamics with this trauma, bonding, and love bonding and gaslighting relationships, where they're always shifting the narrative that, hey, I'm doing this because I love you, I'm doing this because I want you to fit in, I want you to feel connected. And that might be their first experience with that this person is my boyfriend, they're not exploiting me, they love me, they would never put me in a situation, look how much they've done for me, I should probably do something back for them, I owe this to them. And it's making them believe that that's their fault, and that they owe this that they should be a part of that. So these are a lot of the things that we're seeing with young people, and especially when we're told to stay home, not to go out and meet our friends, we're finding new avenues of doing that. And it's kind of scary, because we don't always know where they're accessing and where they're going and what they're doing. Education is key, obviously. So you do your best to educate kids, and you look for the red flags, and you look for those things.

 Elvira Truglia  18:02

Thanks for that , Lauren. And really you're speaking to and everyone's been speaking to the challenges, a lot of challenges, and challenges around the normalization of sexual exploitation. And Leah also mentioned and talked about the exploitation of migrant workers as being normalized by the state. So you know, these are the challenges.  As frontline workers, how do you navigate those challenges? Like, what are some of the best practices that you're using to support people?

 Jessica Wilson  18:33

I know for myself in the work, we work with a lot of indigenous young folk, and one of the things that has really, really been successful is honestly bringing them back to who they are their roots, land based healing, getting them to know their elders, teaching them where they came from, that like the history of who they are, has been something that I have, really, really use a lot to bring it back and simplify it. In a lot of times, I think it seems so hard simplifying things and yeah, bringing it back to that, who you are, the cultural piece, and the land based piece. The land is phenomenal. It's medicine, and we just give them the teachings and it literally gives them like when we talk about that place of belonging, they finally feel like oh my god, I belong somewhere, I come from somewhere, I do have people that love me. And now look at the gifts that I have. And now I can, you know, use these gifts in my own healing and I'm talking about the sacred medicines, we have all these different teachings.

 Thunder Shanti Narooz Vanegarten  19:39

So when we first started our frontline work, we had a team with a social worker and with some part time peer support workers, so folks who have lived experience of exploitation or trafficking, or the sex trade or some combination thereof, and what we found is that anytime we were working with a youth and we asked them every single time they wanted to speak to someone with lived experience. And so we pivoted and recognized how important that was, and I call them our not so secret, secret weapons, our peer outreach workers, because they have this capacity to connect with youth in such a different way. And provide that non judgmental support, support them through successes and things that feel like failures and relapses. And all of those pieces because they've been there. And they understand and they get it. And they really understand so they can really use those words, I understand because they do. And that's real, that's genuine. And so that for us has been so important and really emerged as a best practice.

 Lauren Mathias  20:38

I think, you know, with any organization when you're working with young folks, or anyone for that matter, we don't ever encourage young folks to be involved in sex work or exploitation, obviously, you don't want to encourage that. But the reality is, they're going to be involved, they're going to do it. So how do we mitigate that? How do we support them? We always talk about like, if we try and swoop in and save them and stop them from their connections and what they're doing and engaging in unsafe situations, we're actually just perpetuating the harm and the cycle of victimhood at times where we're coming in to save you and get you out of the situation. And pulling them away from connections is not going to be helpful. So we don't want them to feel like there's a loss of control or that they're losing control over their own destiny, or who they're choosing to be with or be friends with. But there are things that we put in place then to try and minimize that. So that would be involving in safety planning. So check in checkout times, if you're going to meet with a client or meet with somebody, make sure you have someone knows where you're going, check in with a friend have a checkout time, if they don't hear by a certain time, then you're going to call the police. Carry a cell phone with you, carry a whistle with you. Talk with your worker about potential outcomes of what might happen if, this is my plan to meet with this person or do something with this person and it doesn't go this way, then how am I going to get myself out of there safely. Don't send naked pictures, maybe. We also talk about harm reduction. So we'll offer them condoms, get them on birth control, take them to clinics for regular STI testing. Again, this isn't us saying we support your lifestyle and what you're doing, but we're only with you for a few hours a week if that. So if you're going to be doing this, let's do this in the most safe way possible. And let's have you understand all the risks associated with that educate them on age of consent, age of protection, what are the current laws, power dynamics, things like that. And at the end of the day, like both Thunder and Jessica said, connect them with folks who have lived experience who understand what they've gone through. And it's a one to one service, meet them where they're at. Focus on their strengths, what are they good at, you know. If we have someone who feels like they've got nothing going on, but they're really great artists? Well, we're gonna buy them all the art supplies in the world and try and focus on that strength, because then that will help build their self confidence, help them see themselves in a different light. And hopefully, they'd be making choices to leave their exploitive situation with the guidance and support of us.

 Elvira Truglia  22:59

Wondering if Leah has anything to add about how this might look like for migrant women, in terms of best practices? 

 Leah Woolner  23:08

Sure, I mean, a lot of what was said really resonates with me and the work in which we do I think, similarly to what Lauren just described, I always try and see the person as much more than their problem, like you're not your problem, your a full human being. And I really, really try and bring that into my work, because I want to know about their lives outside of this problem. Now, what do you like? Who are you? You know, what did you do before you were in this situation? Do you have kids? You know, what are your interests? What what are you interested by? What music do you listen to, you know, really trying to get a full picture of who that person is. And I think that's a way not only to establish trust, but also to really see the person as much more than just whatever difficulty they might be experiencing. I think one of our issues is that the barriers and the problems facing, you know, particularly racialized, precarious status, migrant women tend to be really invisible alized. And so, you know, our strategy is really a simple one, it's really just to try and make their issues as visible as possible. And of course, in a way that amplifies their voices. So being in the right spaces to bring up those issues or the issues that are important to our membership.

 Fay Faraday  24:23

So it's interesting in hearing that there are real points of similarity in working with both adults and youth, at the same time that there are some distinctive elements about the youth experiences, what is one big shift that you want to see happen? What's one big change that you think would make a real difference in the lives of youth or the lives of the adults who you're working with?

 Jessica Wilson  24:53

I think a huge shift will be just creating a space for them to share giving them a space out The table and you know, giving them opportunity to share their experiences if they choose to. I always think that we look at these situations as very negative all the time. And it's not always all negative, and giving them the opportunity to speak their truth to honour their truth and their experiences and their healing journeys. God, just make space for them at the table and youth, they're the experts, they live this every day. 

 Camilla Ho  25:30

I often wish that there wasn't so much of the age restriction or limitation of services offered, you know, in the services we offer, a lot of it is building trust and building that relationship and building a rapport with and establishing all those things to offer the best possible support for that youth. But oftentimes, you will only meet one youth at the age of say, like 17, or 18, you have a year to establish that relationship before they move on. And oftentimes, they do need that support after that, but you're sort of like limited in the services you can offer. And then they have to start a new relationship, like maybe a new worker, and so I think there's a lot of barriers when it comes to yeah, just the limitations around age restrictions when it comes to programming and services. So I guess the shift would be nice to have, like more flexibility around that.

 Rebecca Alexander  26:23

I think having people come from an intersectional feminist lens, I think is very important as well. Recognizing that the issue is gendered but not cisgendered only and including just all diverse voices, because I feel like some voices are highlighted more than others, we don't get full story or a full picture. 

 Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren  26:45

The shift that I'd like to see, again, it comes back to some of those root causes, and I think of money. And I know I saw Lauren also making kind of that money, money, money, motion. So you know, thinking about people living in poverty, and how that puts them at huge risk for a lot of different issues, and certainly sexual exploitation, and how, you know, we recently conducted a survivor survey. And we found that so many people, their initial entry was really due to survival reasons. So again, whether they were recruited, whether they were coerced, whether they were deceived, whether they started participating on their own, so much of it was related to simply not being able to make ends meet, not being able to pay for their basic needs, not being able to find an affordable apartment, you know, something that we see that might be fairly unique to Nova Scotia is that it's a very rural province, there's lots of rural areas. And so some things we're hearing is people exchanging sex or sexual acts simply just for transportation, just to get into town to just go to an appointment. And so you know, looking at what are the opportunities for just working and then even wages, obviously not meeting all the the needs that we have, and then looking at benefits that exist, welfare, income assistance, EI, all those other types of benefits that again, just don't meet the actual realities of the cost of living. And so I would love to see that shift, and moving people out of poverty, and ideally, the not having to deal with that huge risk factor.

 Leah Woolner  28:25

I definitely think poverty reduction is really important, and definitely would be a great shift, I think, one shift that I would really like to see would be just better social legal protections for migrants in Canada. That's a very broad statement. But I think particularly in this context, in the pandemic context, I think it's really, really, really important to recognize all of the different ways in which our society is built by migrant labour or how much migrant labour contributes to the well being of our, of our society, our economy and everything. And so I would say status regularization, I would say that that is something that in this particular moment, I think is more important than ever.

 Elvira Truglia  29:08

We're gonna change the system. We have a blueprint, roadmap, you've done it.

 Fay Faraday  29:16

This is so fabulous. And it's like every conversation makes me wish that we could have like three more hours on that conversation because I feel again that we've just touched the surface on something that's got so much more going on.

 Elvira Truglia  29:43

That wraps up today's episode of The Traffik Report.

 Fay Faraday  29:47

Make sure you subscribe to our podcast so you don't miss any of our conversations. And also make sure you visit our website at That's traffik with a K as always we'll post our show transcript, as well as some resources and links that are related to the things that we've been talking about today. My name is Fay Faraday.

 Elvira Truglia  30:09

And I'm Elvira Truglia and in today's episode you heard from Rebecca Alexander in Edmonton, Camilla Ho in Vancouver, Lauren Mathias in Vancouver as well, and Thunder Shanti Narooz van Egteren in Halifax, Jessica Wilson in Fort Francis, and Leah Woolner in Montreal.

 Fay Faraday  30:28

This episode was produced by Elvira Truglia and Fay Faraday. Our theme song "I'm Not Alone", was created by youth at PLEA Community Services in British Columbia. And many thanks to the Canadian Women's Foundation, whose financial support has made all of this possible.

 Elvira Truglia  30:46

Thanks for listening to The Traffik Report, speaking truth to power on sex and labour trafficking. Got something really special planned for our next episode, and we promise it will be a lot of fun, really, we promise and so make sure to join us. Until next time.