OHSWEKEN — Six Nations is a hotspot for human trafficking because of its proximity to the 400 series of highways and socioeconomic factors making Indigenous people more vulnerable to predators.
That’s according to the new anti-human trafficking and sexual exploitation unit at Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services. The department was launched in April thanks to an infusion of federal funding aimed at curbing human trafficking across the country.
Onkwehonwe women and girls represent an elevated and disproportionate number of those being trafficked.
“It is happening here, with Six Nations being a hotspot, being so close to the 400 series highways,” said Alex Martin, child and youth counsellor with the anti-human trafficking program.
He said 70 per cent of all human trafficking in Canada occurs within the areas close to the 400 highway corridors in Ontario. “It’s happening on Six Nations.”
In addition, Indigenous women and youth make up 70 per cent of all human trafficking cases in Canada.
“There is a need in our community,” said Yvonne Allemang, counselling lead for the Ganohkwasra anti-human trafficking program. “There are youth being trafficked and sexually exploited. There’s a lot of new programs popping up because of the new (anti-human trafficking government) funding and Ganohkwasra is one of them. There’s a lot of Indigenous anti-human trafficking programs.”
Their focus right now is anti-human trafficking prevention and education. Six Nations schools, community agencies, and parents are the focus of the campaign.
As well, the unit plans to create a four-week anti-human trafficking education program for grade seven and eight students on Six Nations so that, “they know what grooming is, what luring is, what a pimp looks like, what different kinds of pimps there are. That’s our idea right now.”
The unit also provides deep therapeutic counselling for youth 14 to 25 who have been victims of human trafficking, grooming or luring.
Martin said human traffickers are rarely convicted. Only two per cent of all human trafficking charges result in a conviction, he said.
“They’re super smart,” said Martin. “They know the ins and outs of the justice system. They’re working their way around it. They’ll take a plea bargain and it doesn’t get them on the sexual offenders list. They can be out and doing everything ‘just like that’ again.”
Human trafficking takes many forms. People can be trafficked and exploited for cheap labour (or sometimes even free labour), to transport drugs, and, to provide sexual services, said Allemang.
Allemang said there was a human trafficking case in Caledonia two years ago where a man from Hungary was trafficked for labour purposes.
Alarm bells rang out on Six Nations last year when a young girl was almost abducted for the purpose of trafficking from the Tim Hortons parking lot on Chiefswood Road, she said.
“But we have to remember, families can also traffic their children and youth,” said Allemang. “Parents, uncles and aunts can traffic their own.”
Trafficking can also take the form of exploitation, she said, citing an example of a youth running away from home, couch surfing and needing a ride to the doctor, for example, and the homeowner agrees but requires a favour in return.
People wonder why victims of human trafficking don’t just escape, she said, but it’s not that easy.
Traffickers threaten to harm the person’s family if they leave or tell the police and they’re watched at all times, even if it appears they’re alone and have a chance to escape, said Allemang.
The history of colonization explains why Indigenous people make up a large percentage of human trafficking victims, said Allemang.
“We look at Pocahontas – she was trafficked. Disney has made her out to be this princess but she was one of the first youth to be human trafficked.”
There are even modern examples of human trafficking resulting from colonization, such as labour trafficking at residential schools and the “Sixties Scoop,” where Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and placed into white adoptive families.
In addition, there is a huge connection between Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and human trafficking, said Allemang.
The current Covid-19 pandemic has played a role in increasing opportunities for human trafficking, as well, she said, as families break down and illicit drug consumption increases.
“The pandemic has affected everything,” she said.
There are warning signs or red flags to look out for if you believe someone is a victim of human trafficking. Those include: a sudden acquisition of new designer clothes or money, the use of slang terms, wearing sexually provocative clothing, claims of an older boyfriend or girlfriend, “branding” or tattoos, exhibits sexually inappropriate behaviour older than age, absent from class without good explanation, withdrawn or depressed, substance abuse issues, always in presence of older male who is not a known guardian, has unexplained injuries and is unable to make any personal decisions.
“We look at the red flags,” said Allemang. “It’s a change in behaviour. If somebody starts using slang, that’s a red flag. If somebody all of a sudden has a new cellphone or two cellphones or…look at all the new clothes.”
A human trafficker operates in five steps: first, they target a victim, looking for a vulnerability such as low self-esteem or emotional neediness. The second step is gaining the victim’s trust. They can gain trust and information by interacting with the victim’s parents, too, as they often have great social skills and mix well with other adults. Third, the trafficker fills a need for the victim, making the victim dependent on them by doing things like buying them gifts, being a friend or buying them drugs or alcohol. The fourth step is isolation: the trafficker creates alone time for the victim and attempt to distance them from their friends and family. That’s when the abuse begins, and the trafficker convinces the victim to start re-paying them by providing sex, for example.
Human trafficking generates $32 billion a year globally. The average age of sexual exploitation is 13 years old. Eighty per cent of victims are women or girls.
If you suspect someone is being trafficked, if you think you are victim of trafficking or have more questions about human trafficking on Six Nations, you can contact the anti-trafficking program at Ganohkwasra at 519-445-0845.