Tonight, on a perfectly calm and warm summer evening I stood at the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers, surrounded by roses, in the garden of Deane House restaurant in Calgary. I sipped an Italian rosé wine and ate halibut cakes, duck arancini, cured salmon and seared ahi tuna. My loving husband of 27 years stood beside me. Sounds ideal, except for a knot in the pit of my stomach.
Why the knot? Despite, the glorious day and the chance to catch up with a few caring friends, we were actually there to learn more about a grotesque subject – the fact that human slavery which is also know as human trafficking exists in our city and our country.
According to the Criminal Code of Canada, trafficking in persons occurs when “someone recruits, transports, transfers, receives, holds, conceals or harbours a person, or exercises control, direction or influence over the movements of a person for the purpose of exploiting them or facilitating their exploitation (Criminal Code of Canada 2015).
This is modern day slavery. It is time to abolish it but that can only happen if more Canadians become aware that it is happening right here in our cities, our provinces, our blessed country. Tonight Calgarians, Paul Brandt and Paul Hardy launched their #notinmycity campaign to tackle this subject and raise money for both the Sheldon Kennedy Centre for Child Advocacy and the Joy Smith Foundation.
It is a fact that 93 percent of the victims of human trafficking in Canada are Canadians. Between 2013 and 2014, the rate of human trafficking violations almost doubled (0.33 per 100,000 population and 0.58 per 100,000 population, respectively) (Stats Can). In Calgary in 2017, thus far, 11 sexually exploited youth have been apprehended this year and police have helped 11 sex workers exit the trade. Only one percent of victims ever get rescued (Global News).
That is only the tip of the iceberg. By its very nature, this perverted scene is hidden, stigmatized and suppressed in the criminal underworld. It is severely underreported but the U.N. estimates 27 million victims globally with people affected in every country (ACTalberta).
Human trafficking victims often suffer from emotional trauma, as well as economic, physical and sexual abuse (Public Safety Canada 2012; United Nations 2008). Victims are generally young. Among victims of human trafficking reported between 2009 and 2014, close to half (47%) were between the ages of 18 and 24 (Stats Can). Three out of 10 are physically beaten. Most are kept in slavery by threats against their lives or their family’s lives.
A recent Toronto Star undercover report – Beaten, branded, bought and sold – brought to light girls that were taken to hotel rooms where 15 people would pay to have sex with them in one night. Pimps reported making $280,000.00 per year from their oppression and control of young women, some as young as 12 years old. The perpetrators of human trafficking call it “the game.” They lure young vulnerable people into their control by lying about being in love with them and treating them well to begin with. Then they force them to have sex with others for money.
Girls are used to people deciding things for them. Our society lacks gender equality. Somehow, the idea of paying for sex with a woman, man or child is still acceptable in this world. Watch this short video from the Joy Smith Foundation to learn more:
Life is not all roses but Paul Hardy chose the yellow rose for a bandana and a scarf that he designed to help raise funds for this campaign. Tonight he explained why. The yellow rose, “is a symbol of opposing tension…a bloom reflecting hope, promise & new beginnings, while the thorns suggest loss & thoughtlessness. Yellow is not an easy colour for most to wear, and neither is the subject of #humantrafficking to talk about. Yellow derives its meaning from the Indo-European word to cry-out or yell. Visually, I hoped to create a motif throughout the bandana and scarf that would not only be bold from afar, but also suggest a community of friendship and a worthiness of trust for those who wear it to stand in solidarity with victims against human trafficking.”
Here are some things you can do:
Follow the campaign, learn more about the charities and donate.
If you have information about incidents of human trafficking, call the Calgary Police non-emergency number at 403-266-1234.
If you are involved in Calgary’s sex trade and would like help getting out, call the Calgary Police Counter Exploitation hotline at 403-428-8585.
Paul Brandt told a story tonight about work he did in Thailand to stop the construction of a “sex vacation hotel” and the rescue of children as young as five years old. He said that when bullies are confronted they run away. I believe that is true.
From my own youth, I can share that I did make my way out of an oppressive relationship. It wasn’t easy. Ironically, the person who controlled me used to give me yellow roses. No wonder I had a knot in my gut tonight.
Contrast from how we’d like the world to be exists to give us the desire to make it better. Healing can happen with light and love from within. I had to dig deep inside to find that for myself. I had that strength but not everyone does. Going through some awful things has taught me to savour what I have now and ultimately, to savour it all. It is my hope that we gain gender equality and harmony for humanity in my lifetime.
We are all one or as Shakespeare put it, a rose by any other name is still a rose.