As we Reflect on Sexual Assault Awareness Month: What Role does Human Trafficking Play?

by Marcie Casler

Nova Scotia has been recognized as the province with the highest rates of human trafficking in Canada, but it doesn’t involve high-tech abductions like you see on TV or social media, it’s often someone grooming a person into submission. Many victims believe their trafficker is their romantic partner. It could be happening to someone you know right now. There are many survivors of human trafficking who have also been sexually abused.

Sex work and human trafficking are often confused. We acknowledge the distinction between sex work and trafficking. Sex work does not constitute sexual exploitation, and all migrant sex workers are not victims of trafficking. In many cases, anti-trafficking measures by law enforcement, focus on anti-sex work and anti-migration, and do not benefit those they claim to aid. Sex workers are instead endangered, and their human rights are violated (Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, 2018).

To make the distinctions clearer, here are some definitions:

Sex work

Sex work refers to the exchange of a wide variety of sexual services for money or goods by consenting adults. Sex work comes in a variety of forms. The term sex work is intentionally broad to encompass a variety of erotic work and services. Whether it is dancing, street work or domination, all sexual work is equally valid (Maggie’s Toronto, n.d.).

Human trafficking

Human trafficking is defined as coercing individuals into performing commercial sexual acts or labour against their will through force, fraud, or coercion, and creates harm whether it is physically, sexually, emotionally or mentally. In both labour and sex trafficking situations, sexual abuse can be used as a method of control (Statistics Canada, 2022).

Sexual Assault

Sexual assault is any form of sexual activity that takes place without the consent of the other person. This refers to unwanted sexual activity, i.e. touching, kissing someone without consent, sexual harassment, rape (Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2022).

Although May is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, honoured by several provinces across Canada, we continue to reflect on the importance of this issue all year long. As individuals, we should use our strengths to create a strong advocacy network, enhance prevention, and increase all levels of support for survivors. As a person living in Nova Scotia, sexual assault and human trafficking are issues I’m passionate about fostering education and awareness on; in order to take steps toward preventing further harm to survivors and individuals who are at-risk for becoming a victim. In this article, we will explore the intersection of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

Who is at risk and targeted for human trafficking?

Women and girls are disproportionately affected by human trafficking for sexual exploitation, though men and boys can also become victims. Indigenous women and girls, vulnerable youth or those with prior involvement in child welfare, 2SLGBTQIA+ people, newcomers, and others who are marginalized socially or economically are at risk particularly (Statistics Canada, 2022).

#NotInMyCity (2021) is an organization founded by Canadian Country Music songwriter andperformer Paul Brandt that works towards preventing and ending human trafficking and
sexual exploitation by raising awareness and taking collective action. #NotInMyCity has a
free interactive e-learning course which takes 30 minutes to complete. The following
statistics are highlighted in the course:

How does human trafficking for sexual exploitation happen?

Traffickers target people primarily because of poverty, isolation, precarious housing,
substance abuse, childhood maltreatment and mental health problems. It is a failure of the government and communities to protect the most marginalized and those living in situations most affected by these factors, including women and girls, and 2SLGBTQIA+ and gender-diverse people.

How are sexual assault and human trafficking connected?

People who have experienced sexual abuse may also be more vulnerable to human trafficking. A trafficker may exploit a person’s need for protection or love by preying on unresolved traumatic history.

What should be done to eradicate human trafficking?

Some services to support people who have been sexually assaulted or trafficked:

  • Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: Call 1-833-900-1010
  • Hope for Wellness: Call 1-855-242-3310
  • Trans Lifeline: Call 1-877-330-6366
  • Kids Help Phone: Call 1-800-668-6868
  • Youthspace (open 6-12 pm PST): Text 778-783-0177


Canadian Women’s Foundation. (December 2022). Sexual assault and harassment in Canada: The facts. Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Conroy, S., & Sutton, D. (June 2022). Trafficking in persons in Canada, 2020. Statistics Canada.

Lam, E. (April 2018). Behind the rescue: How anti-trafficking investigations and policies harm migrant sex workers. Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network.

Maggie’s Toronto. (n.d.). Our principles. Maggie’s Toronto.

#NotInMyCity. (August 2021). Interactive E-Learning Course. #NotInMyCity.

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