Recognizing human trafficking
Learn about human trafficking, including how it can happen, who is at risk and warning signs.
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If there is immediate danger or if you suspect someone is being trafficked, call 911 or your local police service.
About human trafficking
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes worldwide. It is a serious criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada that can include recruiting, harbouring or controlling a person’s movements using force, physical or psychological coercion, or deception. Traffickers often make victims do labour (for example, domestic, physical and manual labour) or perform sexual acts in exchange for monetary gain.
Human trafficking is not:
- human smuggling that involves moving someone across a border
- consensual, paid sex work by individuals 18 years or older
Types of human trafficking
Sex trafficking, labour trafficking and forced marriage are types of human trafficking.
Sex trafficking is a form of sexual exploitation that can include recruiting, harbouring, transporting, obtaining or providing a person for the purpose of sex. It refers to the forced, coercive, fraudulent or deceptive exchange of sex for something of value (for example, money, food, drugs, alcohol, transportation, shelter). In Ontario, sex trafficking is the most commonly reported form of human trafficking.
Language like “forced labour,” “servant” and “servitude” are sometimes used when talking about labour trafficking. There have been labour trafficking cases involving construction, manufacturing, mining, hospitality, salons, agriculture, domestic work, sales and other industries.
Labour traffickers often take away passports and other documents, and sometimes control where the person stays. Debt bondage is a form of labour trafficking where a person is told they must work to pay off a large, unexpected and illegal debt.
People in other countries and newcomers may be recruited by someone from their home country or from Canada who makes false promises about what a job is and how much it pays. The person may not know their rights in Ontario, may not know how to get help and may fear reporting to police.
How trafficking can happen
Traffickers identify and target a person’s vulnerabilities to gain trust and form a bond. They often identify and fulfill a person’s needs, and then use that dependence to control and exploit them.
A person can be trafficked anywhere, including in their home community. People who are being trafficked, and the people around them, may not know that a crime is taking place.
Some people who are trafficked are controlled and monitored constantly and don’t have the opportunity or are afraid to ask for help. They may also be manipulated to believe that the trafficker is the only person who cares about them and that they are best off staying with their trafficker.
Traffickers can control and manipulate victims using:
- emotional abuse
- taking control of identification, documents or money
People at risk of human trafficking
Anyone can be at risk of being trafficked, however there are some factors that can make someone more vulnerable.
People who are at higher risk of being sex trafficked are:
- women and girls (though boys, men and people who identify as 2SLGBTQQIA+ are also targeted)
- homeless and/or marginalized youth
- youth who struggle with self-esteem, and/or are experiencing bullying, discrimination, poverty, abuse, isolation and other social or family issues
- Indigenous and racialized women and girls
- people with addiction, mental illness or developmental disabilities
People who are most at risk of labour trafficking include:
- migrant workers
- newcomers to Canada
- people with uncertain immigration status
- people who are homeless
- people who do not speak English or French
Signs that someone may be being trafficked
Changes in behaviour, physical appearance, belongings and relationships with family and friends can be signs that someone might be a victim of human trafficking. Signs to watch for include:
Behaviours and activities:
- are repeatedly missing from home and/or have been frequently reported missing to police
- are being secretive about their activities
- begin staying out more often and later
- are absent from school or there is a decline in school performance
- use new or increased methods of transportation, such as taxis, ride-hailing or sharing applications
- are not allowed to speak for themselves and their activities are controlled by someone else
- seem fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, nervous or paranoid (they may avoid eye contact or seem fearful around police)
- move frequently and may not know their surroundings well
- are repaying a large debt through labour or sex (including sexual imagery/filming)
- are unpaid or paid very little to work and seem to be treated poorly (long or unusual hours, not allowed breaks or forced to live in poor conditions)
Relationships with family or friends:
- are withdrawing or isolating from family and friends
- have a new boyfriend, girlfriend or friend who they won’t introduce to friends and family
- suddenly spend time with an older person or people
Physical appearance and belongings:
- begin wearing more sexualized clothing
- have new clothing and jewellery that they can’t afford to buy
- show signs of physical abuse, such as bruising, cigarette burns or fractures
- have tattooing or branding symbols, particularly names
- suddenly have a new or second cell phone with a secret number
- don’t have their own belongings or money, and don’t control their own passport or other documents
- seem malnourished or lack medical care
Ontario's actions to combat human trafficking
Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy
The five-year Anti-Human Trafficking Strategy (2020–2025) focuses on raising awareness, protecting victims, intervening early, supporting survivors and holding offenders accountable. Through this strategy, we support prevention initiatives, community programs and services for victims and survivors, and measures to help bring traffickers to justice.
Provincial anti-human trafficking legislation that supports the fight against human trafficking in Ontario includes the Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021 and the Human Trafficking Awareness Day Act, 2017. As part of the Combating Human Trafficking Act, 2021, Ontario is required to maintain an anti-human trafficking strategy.
Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline: 24/7 and toll-free
The hotline is for victims seeking help, people with a tip to report a potential case, members of the public wanting to learn more about the subject. You can also find services across Canada including Ontario, using the hotline’s National Referral Directory.