A newly released series of reports on sex trafficking in Canada has found that Indigenous women and girls are especially vulnerable to the sex trade.
The Native Women’s Association of Canada reviewed studies from 1982 to 2011of Indigenous women or youth in the sex industry and found colonial history, which included residential schools, and poor socio-economic conditions matched the risk factors for sex trafficking.
“The trafficking is all based on poverty. We have no money. We have to sell the only commodity we have (and it) is our girls,” said Muriel Stanley Venne, co-founder and president of the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women, in Edmonton.
According to the literature review undertaken by the National Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada, which was created by the Canadian Women’s Foundation in 2013, five factors figure into those involved in the sex trade: being female; being poor; having a history of violence and/or neglect; having a history of child sexual abuse; and a low level of education.
One of the key findings from the report is that Aboriginal women and girls are over-represented in trafficking, said NWAC in a news release.
The 24-member task force, which included A Ojibway Metis Elder Mae Louise Campbell, from Grandmother Moon Lodge in Winnipeg; Chapleau Cree First Nation member Erin Corston, executive director for Ontario Native Women’s Association; Blood Tribe member Lanna Many Grey Horses, manager of women’s and children’s services, the Bloom Group in Vancouver; Dr. Marie Delorme, CEO with the Imagination Group of Companies in Calgary; and superintendent Shirley Cuillierrier, and First Nations Mohawk from Kanesatake, director general with federal policing partnership and external relations RCMP in Ottawa. They spent 18 months gathering information for the reports.
CWF’s report, “No More” Ending Sex-Trafficking in Canada, states, “In some Indigenous communities, these root causes are coupled with rural/remote living conditions. The result is a complex environment that contributes to an increased risk among Indigenous women and girls in being sexually exploited and trafficked.”
“I’ve heard … 20 years or more ago, … that the way to get out of your community, which was so much desired by the young women to have a future, was that they were told, if they have a nice ass, you go to the city,” said Venne.
A limited survey of experiential Indigenous women conducted by NWAC produced startling results. Half of those surveyed were first recruited between the ages of nine and 14. More than 87 per cent had been sexually abused, raped or molested before they were trafficked; 75 per cent could not keep any of their earnings; and 85.7 per cent had tried to resist and leave their situation.
Venne relates the situation of Marilyn Merasty, a 14-year-old girl in Pelican Narrows, SK, who was sold by her mother to an RCMP member.
Merasty’s situation is not unique. According to the NWAC survey, 80 per cent of the Indigenous women surveyed had been forced to have sex with the police, 71 per cent with doctors, 60 per cent with judges, and 40 per cent with social workers.
“It’s a national shame as I’ve said publicly and I’ll say it until the day I die. This is the most shameful act of non-attention to the lives of Aboriginal women,” said Venne.
“We want more for our women and girls – we want a life filled with choices, peace and economic security and a world where our women are valued,” said NWAC President Michelle Audette.
The task force set eight goals, the first of which is to change the systems, judicial, legal and child welfare; provide instant and comprehensive services; build awareness; and collective action, which includes provincial anti-trafficking strategies and establishing a Council of Funders to promote long-term investment in ending sex trafficking.