Talking with Your Kids About Human Trafficking

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My friend Stephanie works with the Joy Smith Foundation (JSF), the organization I wrote about in my last article, “Human Trafficking and the Freedom Challenge.” JSF is a great organization doing excellent work, so I reached out to Stephanie with some questions about the foundation and human trafficking in Canada.

1. Can you briefly explain how the Joy Smith Foundation came to be?

Joy Smith is a mother of six, and was a school teacher for 23 years. When her oldest son, Edward, started his career as a police officer in Winnipeg, MB, he was assigned to the Integrated Child Exploitation department. The evidence that he was witnessing literally changed his hair white over the process of a year. He became dramatically withdrawn and sullen. As a mother, Joy probed to discover what was happening to her son; what she discovered forever altered her life. Immediately, she began holding presentations in the community to inform people of the extent of sex trafficking in Canada. From there, she served on City Council, and then proceeded on to serve as a Member of Parliament (MP) for more than 11 years to change policies against traffickers. While in Parliament, Joy Smith became the first MP to pass two bills that amended the criminal code to protect victims and more effectively prosecute traffickers.

Joy formed her non-profit foundation while still in Parliament, and after her retirement from politics in 2014, she has continued to serve the youth of our country through education, trafficking prevention, and rescuing victims of trafficking.

2. Is human trafficking really an issue in Canada?

Absolutely! The luring of children online, in schools, at malls, and at community clubs is happening at an alarming rate. These are professional recruiters who know how to groom our children and recruit them for the sex trade. According to a 2008 report from Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, the average pimp makes $280,000 a year per child that they traffic. However, a trafficker usually sells multiple children for sex, and of course, does not pay government taxes. In the meantime, taxpayers are paying upwards of $800,000 per victim per year in healthcare and judicial costs and social services.

3. Can you tell us about some of the work that the JSF is currently or recently doing?

Currently, the Joy Smith Foundation has developed educational curriculum to take into Canadian schools. JSF supports several safehouses, and is actively involved in the rescue of survivors. The Foundation has also created initiatives in the cities of Winnipeg, Red Deer, Edmonton, and Calgary to deter the demand of trafficking during major entertainment events, such as the Calgary Stampede or Grey Cup.

4. What are some ways that readers can become involved in trafficking awareness?

Education and prayer are the most powerful weapons. There is a new all-Canadian documentary titled “Canada’s Secret Shame: Human Trafficking” now available online at joysmithfoundation.com. This documentary is a tool that you can use to show others in your house or in your church, and abroad. The website itself is also a great asset.

Depending on your location, we love to provide guest speakers for community events and school presentations on anti-trafficking. 

5. For parents, what should we be teaching our children?

The key is not to traumatize our children, but to empower them. Ideally, if your children are young, start having open communication about their body parts and stranger danger. If someone is instructing them to do inappropriate things in front of an adult or on a video camera, will your child know how to say no or to tell you about it?

Complimenting your child on things besides their appearance (eg. their character and their skills), as well as keeping safe, open lines of communication with your child can help ground their sense of security and protect them from the lure of traffickers.

When your older children are online, ask them the same questions you would ask them if they were going to a physical location outside of the house: “With whom are you going? Where are you going? For how long?” Children need to be aware that there are adults online who pose as peers or as potential boyfriends. Female recruiters are also successful at grooming your children because they are seen as being more trustworthy.

The average age of entry into sex trafficking in Canada is between 12-14 years of age. If your children are becoming more isolated, acting out against you, hiding things or information from you, they may be being groomed. A recruiter often compliments and gifts youth to offer them a charming life that’s better than your family’s life, and pit your child against you. Within 48 hours of going missing from your home, they are often already being trafficked. It is a good idea to have a secret phrase you can use as code for your child, if ever they’re in danger and have only a few seconds to call you (eg. “How’s Aunt Bertha?”). 

6. Is there anything else you want to say that we might have missed?

If you see someone that looks like they are being trafficked, the best thing to do is call 911 or local RCMP. DO NOT approach the girl because you may endanger her with her trafficker.

Some signs of trafficking are wearing skimpy clothing or not enough warm clothing during the winter, bruises and abuse marks, or drug tracks. If they are with their trafficker, there is often an obvious age gap between the child and their pimp, and the child may have a look of fear that indicates that they are being controlled by the person they are with. If they are seen in public alone, the victim may look like they are looking over their shoulder because they know they are being watched.

Thank you to Stephanie for taking the time to answer these questions! I hope and pray that through anti-trafficking initiatives, we can be aware of the very real danger, and keep our loved ones (and communities) safe. I also pray that our communities will be equipped to recognize victims, and offer support for recovery.

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