To mark International Day of the Girl, The Shoebox Project Co-Founder and Chair, Caroline Mulroney Lapham, delves into the issue of domestic sex trafficking; a rising cause of homelessness among young women and girls across Canada.
In honour of International Day of the Girl, I had an enlightening discussion with Bruce Rivers, Executive Director of Covenant House, a shelter for youth aged 16-24 and longtime partner of The Shoebox Project for Shelters, about the new and emerging risks that young girls are facing today. He told me that Covenant House has seen an increase of 40% in the last year of girls coming to its doors who are victims of sex trafficking.
Modern day sex slavery is a disturbing trend that affects girls from all economic backgrounds, who are lured from schoolyards, malls and through online channels. Human sex trafficking involves both the illegal recruiting and transport of girls and women and their forced prostitution. Victims are often homeless but they can also be lured from safe homes and neighbourhoods by email and social networks. Predators pose as friends and boyfriends, often selling a dream of an exciting life, with promises of money and love. In reality, these girls live a horrific nightmare from which it is very difficult to escape
Through my involvement with The Shoebox Project, I have learned so much in the last five years about the risks that women and girls face that often lead them to shelters or place them at risk for homelessness, from poverty and domestic abuse, to substance abuse and mental illness. But sex trafficking is both a growing cause of homelessness and a troubling trend in criminal activity, that affects women and poses a particularly great risk for young girls.
This problem exists across the country, but Toronto is considered a major hub for sex trafficking. Toronto police report that they laid 463 charges in 2015 and 330 in the first six months of 2016. Last year, 61 people were arrested for trafficking and there were 30 victims. In the first six months of 2016, 52 people have been arrested and 30 victims have been identified. Even more disturbing, the average age of victims is 17, and they can be as young as 12.
Why are these numbers increasing so dramatically? Rivers explains that “the online world has amplified the problem, broadened the phenomenon, and has taken the visible aspect of child prostitution off the street.” The dark corners of the internet are easier for predators to operate within and make it harder for police to detect. More and more, sex trafficking and exploitation is happening in hotels, apartments and condos across the city, and making it much more difficult for police to monitor the activities of predators and stop the crime.
The fact that victims of sex trafficking have been finding their way to shelter doors is a good thing. Agencies across the country are working hard to help victims, and in fact just this year, Covenant House opened a residential housing site designated specifically for trafficked girls. This program is the first of its kind in Canada, providing both transitional housing and intensive support services.
What else can we do?
Today is International Day of the Girl. Join with me today and everyday as I stand with the global community to support girls’ progress everywhere, including in our very own neighbourhoods. Let's let girls be girls!
The Shoebox Project for Shelters supports young women and girls experiencing homelessness across the country by reminding them that despite their circumstances, they remain valued, respected members of their community. Please join us this holiday season by sending a special gift to a woman in your community and let her know that you care.
Lesley Hendry - Executive Director