Women gather to take stand against human trafficking

WINNIPEG, MB—An upcoming national women's gathering will aim to drive home the message that human trafficking happens right here in Canada.

The Caught in Traffick event, hosted by the Women's Inter-Church Council of Canada (WICC), takes place June 21-23 at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. The event will offer information about human trafficking, its origins and its presence in many Canadian communities.

"The usual thinking is that human trafficking is a problem for places like Toronto and Vancouver," says Kathryn Tate of WICC. "The real story is that this is a problem for everyone everywhere—from sexual exploitation to domestic work to labour exploitation, from forced marriages to petty crimes, the victims can be anywhere and anyone."

In fact, victims come from every part of the world and every walk of life but women between the ages of 18 and 25 are the most trafficked people, and they are usually sexually exploited.

"Bringing women together around human trafficking opens another door for women to take leadership and put their faith into action," Tate says of the WICC event.

Speakers will include Dianna Bussey of The Salvation Army in Canada and Bermuda Territory Anti-Human Trafficking Network; Cheryl Perera, founder of OneChild, which inspires children and youth to take action against child sex slavery; and Sister Lesley Sacouman, co-founder of Winnipeg's Rossbrook House.

MP Joy Smith, one of Canada's leading anti-human trafficking advocates who introduced Bill C-310 to amend the Criminal Code, is the keynote speaker. Smith also recently started the Joy Smith Foundation to create awareness about human trafficking and support frontline organizations that rescue and rehabilitate victims.

Winnipeg was chosen as the site for the WICC Caught in Traffick event because of the concern around missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Manitoba.

"No matter where they find themselves, Aboriginal women are the most likely to be abused and experience higher levels of poverty, making them vulnerable to luring, manipulation and coercion by human traffickers," Tate says.

Smith explains in many cases predators target their victims by coming on as friends. "They go up to reserves and they make promises, but the purpose is to get [women] away from their support systems and get them isolated," she says, adding a lot of missing and murdered women have been trafficked.

The WICC event is addressing the need to connect people around the issue of human trafficking.

The gathering will offer workshops led by government and law enforcement officials, Aboriginal community leaders, and frontline workers. The weekend will also include worship, and music and dance performances by local community groups.

"What distinguishes the WICC event is the irrepressible strength and conviction to be found among women of faith. When they gather in that faith incredible things happen," Tate says.

"It's so appropriate for Christian women to be involved," Smith says. "God is on the move and it's time for Christian women to take a strong stand."

Quick Facts

• The United Nations estimates there are 2.5 million people in the world being exploited by human traffickers at any given time. Almost all will experience violence at the hands of the people exploiting them. Of those who find themselves trapped, 43 per cent will be sexually exploited, and 98 per cent of those exploited for sex are women and girls.

• Human trafficking is a lucrative business generating an estimated US $31.6 billion in profits worldwide.

• 1.2 million children are trafficked each year.

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