Editor’s note: This article mentions and discusses human trafficking, sexual violence, and domestic violence.
Sadly, human trafficking is a prevalent issue in Canadian society, yet many Canadians are unaware of the severity, signs, or how to help suspected victims.
According to the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, in Canada, sex trafficking rarely involves smuggling or kidnapping. It most often begins with someone the victim knows, loves, and trusts — deeming it crucial for people to understand what a healthy relationship looks and feels like.
Ahead of National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on February 22, the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking is providing research and insight to better understand the warning signs that can signal human trafficking. As fostering healthy relationships is at the heart of ending sex trafficking, we’ve rounded up five warning signs that may call for caution, and five indicators of a strong partnership.
5 signs of an unhealthy relationship
Sex traffickers use their power to exploit people who are in need. While traffickers often attract victims with the illusion of a happy and healthy relationship, this can evolve into an unhealthy one, rooted in power and control.
However, over half (52%) of Canadians are unaware that people being trafficked for sex are often lured by someone they know. And while recent research by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking reveals that over two-thirds of Canadians (69%) feel the average Canadian doesn’t understand the issue of sex trafficking, a staggering 93% believe it’s important to raise awareness and increase education.
By understanding indicators that something is wrong, we become better able to navigate situations — and to prevent sex trafficking from occurring.
1. Feeling pressured
If your partner pressures you to do something you don’t want to do (especially in relation to sexual pursuits), it’s an immediate red flag.
2. Being threatened
If anyone is ever using tactics like blackmail, ultimatums, or suggesting there’s no other option than their demands — beware of the situation.
A healthy partner leaves your decisions up to you and should never try to scare you into doing something to benefit them. This is a clear-cut sign that something is up, and this person doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Whether real or perceived, no one should be afraid of someone they love or who loves them. Violence has no place in a healthy relationship.
“A sign of abuse to watch out for is when someone’s appearance seems out of place, they have cuts or bruises and appear branded or tattooed,” according to Julia Drydyk, executive director of The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking. It’s important to watch for signs of violence or control that could indicate a person is at risk of human trafficking.
A major sign of an unhealthy relationship is being cut off from family and friends. If you are ever being forced to spend all of your time with someone, a new romantic interest or friend, and are being isolated from loved ones, know that it is toxic and unhealthy behaviour.
“Family and friends play a critical role in preventing human trafficking and supporting those affected. The sooner loved ones take notice of these signs, the better able they are to help someone being exploited,” says Drydyk.
“The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline (1-833-900-1010) can help those who fear that they or someone they care for may be experiencing human trafficking,” she continues. “Team members who receive more than 60 hours of trauma-informed training can provide confidential support and resources, 24 hours a day, in over 200 languages.”
5. Loss of control
When someone tries to control all aspects of another’s life, like who their friends are, what activities they do, their cell phone and social media accounts, it’s a cause for concern.
It’s important to remember that your life is your own. Even when in a partnership with someone else, you have a right to privacy and individuality.
“While there is no one thing that suggests a person is being trafficked, a potential sign to watch out for is sudden changes in behaviour. If someone acts in a fearful, anxious, submissive, or nervous manner, is excessively concerned about displeasing a partner, appears to be controlled by someone else, is withdrawing and rarely responding to phone calls — these are concerning red flags,” says Drydyk.
“Strange possessions are also a common sign to watch out for. Someone who has unexplained expensive gifts, multiple cell phones, no access to identification, excess cash, or lives outside financial means could potentially be being exploited,” she continues.
5 signs of a healthy relationship
In turn, it’s important to be able to recognize what a healthy relationship should look like, to not only avoid dangerous situations — but to honour your own self-worth.
Mutual respect, of course, is crucial — but it’s easy to get lost in conflicting emotions when a relationship isn’t pure in nature. For a healthy relationship, respect is necessary for all parties, and for any boundaries that someone may set.
Consent is necessary for one to be safe in a relationship. For partners to expect something of each other, there has to be mutual consent. Consent should never be coerced, forced, or overlooked.
Communication is key. In a relationship, all should have the liberty to openly discuss their thoughts, ideas, and feelings — and feel safe in doing so. The flexibility to change your mind when desired, as well as the capability to resolve conflicts in a positive manner, is a must for any healthy partnership.
Support is ultimately what defines a healthy relationship. No one should ever be undermined or taken advantage of. All parties should feel supported unconditionally.
The beauty of a healthy relationship is freedom. You should feel the support of your partner without any strings of control attached. All should have the freedom to be who they are, to have their own interests and friends, and to make their own choices.
If something in your gut feels wrong, chances are it is. The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline (1-833-900-1010) offers support to all affected by human trafficking or wanting to learn more — including victims, survivors, and concerned friends and family. It is available 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. Calls are confidential and staffed by trauma-informed, trained team members who do not make judgments and will not share any information or involve the authorities unless it’s requested by the caller.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be involved in human trafficking, or if you want to learn more or access support you can call the number above or reach out through the chat feature on The Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline’s website.
The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking commissioned and paid for this national online Angus Reid survey from November 15 to 17, 2021, drawing a general population sample of 1,514 Canadian adults that was balanced and weighted on age, gender, region, and education.