Human Trafficking

Overview: Listen to a Story

Trafficked and sexually exploited people are made in the image of God. Human trafficking can happen blocks from your church and in affluent areas, as multiple cases in Canada have shown us.

(This clip is a portion of a longer video from Defend Dignity. Watch the full video here.)

Traffickers and pimps exploit a victim’s lack of community, self-esteem, economic means, and healthy relationships and use force, fraud, and/or coercion to profit from the exploitation of others. People who are already vulnerable or marginalized in some way—whether because they are Indigenous women living with the effects of intergenerational trauma, asylum seekers in a foreign country without a way to support themselves, homeless youth, or dealing with a myriad of other challenges—are targeted for this exploitation. The sad fact is that Indigenous women in Canada account for about half of the victims of human trafficking in Canada, although the Indigenous population makes up just 4 percent of the population. Trafficking is one of many complex factors that contribute to the tragedy of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"People who are already vulnerable or marginalized in some way are targeted for this exploitation."

Human trafficking and prostitution are closely interconnected. In fact, it’s often easy to confuse a trafficked victim with a prostituted person – they’re often working in the same areas in the same ways, but the trafficking victim has a pimp or trafficker, and prostituted individuals do not. Prostituted individuals are often exploited in the sex trade as a result of their circumstances including poverty, additions, history of abuse, etc.

We’re partnering with the Reformed Church America’s Hope to Freedom to address human trafficking and prostitution—these issues are deeply interconnected and can together be called “commercial sexual exploitation.”

Hope to Freedom summarizes the sex trade with the three C’s: coercion, circumstance, and "choice." Both sex trafficking and prostitution involve the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable people, whether through coercion or unfortunate circumstances. There are people who argue that they choose to work in the sex trade (this diagram calls that category “sex work”), but they are the minority in the scope of the sex trade. Whether or not some people truly choose to do sex work is a hotly contested question, because there are many external pressures that can lead someone to "choose" this work.

As Cherry Smiley of the Native Women's Association of Canada, writes, "Prostitution is an industry that relies on disparities in power to exist. We can see clearly that women, and especially Aboriginal women and girls, are funnelled into prostitution as a result of systemic inequalities such as their lack of access to housing, loss of land, culture, and languages, poverty, high rates of male violence, involvement with the foster care system, suicide, criminalization, addiction, and disability."


Living the Biblical Story

Throughout the pages of the Bible, we see stories of God giving a voice and a place in the story of redemption to women who were marginalized. Some of these marginalized and exploited women even became the ancestors of Jesus: Tamar, who resorted to prostitution for survival; Rahab, a prostitute in Jericho who became a believer in God; and Bathsheba, whose husband was murdered by King David so that he could have her for himself (see Matt. 1). Jesus himself was often criticized for associating with prostitutes.

There are also deeply troubling stories in the Bible about the exploitation of women, such as that of the Levite’s concubine (or sexual slave) in Judges 19. The Bible does not shy away from depicting the deep brokenness of humanity with regard to sexuality and the protection of vulnerable people. Sex trafficking and coerced prostitution distort and exploit the God-given gift of sexuality.

God cares deeply about marginalized people and expects his people to do the same—in fact, he says, “If you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness” (Isa. 58:10).

Find a Bible study guide on Judges 19 from Hope to Freedom here: Judges 19 - The Plight of the Nameless Concubine and Her "Sisters" Around the World Today

Education: (Re)learn the Story

The Problems with Porn (Do Justice series)

Porn is addictive, and yet 9 in 10 boys and 6 in 10 girls are exposed to pornography before the age of 18. Often first exposure to pornography is accidental and online. Online pornography that is available today is drastically different from previous generations – both in terms of violent content and ease of accessibility. As Christians who believe that sexuality is a sacred gift and who want to seek justice with the marginalized people who are most targeted by the sex industry, we need to address the problem of easily accessible online porn. Hear from a pastor, a leader of an Indigenous ministry, the CRC’s Safe Church Ministry, and two leaders of anti-oppression advocacy groups in this Do Justice series.

“The Trafficked”

This excellent article from the Globe and Mail reviews the state of human trafficking legislation and supports in Canada and draws connections between the high numbers of Indigenous female victims of human trafficking and systemic racism in Canada, including the underfunding of child welfare services on reserves, the legacy of residential schools, and colonization.

Red Light, Green Light

“How can we prevent sex trafficking?” ask the filmmakers in this resource from Hope for the Sold. They visit 10 countries in their search for answers.

Bill C-36 under Review

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (Bill C-36) criminalizes the purchase of sex, but it is now under review by the federal government. The demand for paid access to women’s and children’s bodies propels the sex trade. By addressing the demand that drives the sex trade, we have the opportunity to take preventive measures to stop commercial sexual exploitation.

Featured Resource: Exposing Exploitation Youth Curriculum

Exposing Exploitation Youth Curriculum

While sexual exploitation of youth has been an ongoing issue in Canada and our world for generations, there has been growing concern and need for better understanding of the issue in recent years. There is therefore a need for resources that speak specifically to the issue in our own country. For years, we have been utilizing resources produced in the United States, and while they have been helpful in raising awareness here in Canada, it is always preferable to have resources that are most relatable to viewers. Providing resources that mention American cities and states have the risk of subconsciously suggesting that the issue of human trafficking and sexual exploitation does not happen in our country, in our own communities. Check out this excellent resource from our close friend Jennifer Lucking of Restorations Second Stage Housing, in partnership with Defend Dignity.

View the curriculum here. 

Advocacy: Be Part of the Story

Advocate for Laws that Provide a Culture of Equality

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) “resonates with Canadian values of gender equality and a commitment to social justice. . . . Canada needs laws and systems in place to provide a culture of equality considering that there is a disproportionate number of those involved in the sex trade who are under the age of 18, marginalized and vulnerable (Aboriginal, racialized, immigrant, and abuse survivors), female, and desiring to exit the sex trade” (Canadian Council of Churches in a “Human Trafficking in Canada Working Group Brief”).

The Government has said that PCEPA will go through review, but communication about the timeline and the process have not been clear. Contact your MP to affirm policies that best protect vulnerable people from becoming further exploited.

Suggestions to improve PCEPA:

  • full decriminalization of prostituted persons
  • expunging of records of victims and survivors
  • addressing poverty as a means of prevention

We also call for a high-profile public education and awareness campaign to ensure that the spirit and intent of the proposed legislation is achieved. Read this letter from the Canadian Council of Churches to learn more.

Stand with Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women

The Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) has often highlighted the links between sexual exploitation and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. NWAC is a great organization to watch for further learning and advocacy opportunities.

Two ways to support Indigenous communities in prayer and action:

  • Pray along with the inquiry using this prayer guide from our partners at the CRC’s Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee.
  • Attend a Sisters in Spirit vigil. Every October 4, vigils are held across Canada to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. Find this year’s list of vigils on NWAC’s website here

How do I contact legislators?

Is it better to call, or to write? What do I say?

Learn this and more with our helpful advocacy guide.

Letters to Parliament

Letter from the Canadian Council of Churches on Bill C-36

Letter from the Canadian Council of Churches and the RCA Hope to Freedom on Sexual Exploitation and Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women and Girls


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