Globalization, unregulated internet, limited law enforcement and a lack of prevention education are enabling a growing sex industry in B.C., says an activist against human trafficking.
Cathy Peters — an educator, speaker and advocate — says the industry is targeting the vulnerable, Indigenous, LGBTQ2, youth at risk, new migrants, runaway youth, youth in care, the disabled and any girl under 14 years. Some boys are also lured into the sex industry.
“The key word is exploitation. This is modern day slavery,” Peters said in a presentation to the Comox Valley Regional District board May 11.
Thirteen is the average age of recruitment. For Indigenous girls, she said it’s much younger.
“In the Lower Mainland, the target age now is 10-, 11- and 12-year-old girls. It’s shocking,” said Peters, noting Indigenous girls are severely over-represented in the sex industry. “COVID has made this much worse.”
Peters is a former inner city high school teacher whose focus 40 years ago was to keep students out of gang life and the sex industry. She has been raising awareness about child sexual exploitation and trafficking to every city council, MLA, MP and police agency in B.C. since the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act became federal law in 2014.
The Trafficking in Persons Report from the U.S. State Department says Canada is known as a ‘child sex tourism destination.’
“The global sex trade is growing fast. It is targeting our children, because children is where the money is,” Peters said.
Along with education and awareness, the regional district can help diminish supply and demand by targeting complicit businesses. She suggests training managers what to look for when granting business licences. For example, unregistered massage parlours, nail spas, casinos and even Airbnbs can be covers for sex trafficking. Peters suggests B.C. should follow the lead of Ontario where government, in an effort to curb trafficking at hotels and motels, is mandating registration of every guest who is inside a room.
She asked the board to write a letter to Premier John Horgan and to Solicitor General Mike Farnworth to let them know that this crime is a priority, and that funding is needed for law enforcement and a provincial awareness campaign. Peters said B.C. also needs a task force similar to what is available for drugs and gangs.
In response to a question from Area A director Daniel Arbour, she said the Union cf B.C. Municipalities in 2015 passed a resolution about rape culture that was forwarded to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. It called for the formation of a task force to help erase the rape culture pervasive in schools and workplaces, and to help elicit testimony from victims.
Area B director Arzeena Hamir questioned Peters’ statement about police officers being the only people trained to protect the public.
“I think there are a number of other organizations that can work on this topic,” said Hamir, who would like to bring the Comox Valley Transition Society into the conversation.
Peters said enforcement and education, when put together, tend to put a damper on human sex trafficking. Without enforcement, she said trafficking tends to take off.
“Until you have that deterrent in place, you will never dampen the robustness of the sex industry,” she said. “It’s too lucrative.”
For more information about the topic, visit beamazingcampaign.org