Modern-day slavery and the search for solutions

SSHRC-funded researcher aims to help towns in north Ontario

It has been called modern-day slavery, yet it continues to flourish in all regions of the world, including Canada. It is human trafficking for the illicit sex trade—the kidnapping or deceptive recruitment and movement of people for the purpose of prostitution. And while most Canadians assume this is a big city issue, it is also happening in areas not expected, such as in the rugged setting of northeastern Ontario.

A professor at Nipissing University in North Bay is leading a study to find strategies for communities in this region to stop and prevent sex trafficking. With a SSHRC Partnership Development Grant of $195,000, Rosemary Nagy is partnering with local community organizations, many of which suspect sex trafficking is occurring but lack the tools to do something concrete about it. Together, they aim to help remote communities identify and respond effectively to this issue.

Nagy is an associate professor in the Gender Equality and Social Justice Department at Nipissing. She has focused her research on human rights, especially major violations and the factors that facilitate it, such as gender inequality and social oppression. She was studying Indian Residential Schools when she became aware of the issue of sex trafficking in North Bay.

“Brenda Quenneville, project co-director and executive director of Amelia Rising Sexual Assault Centre of Nipissing, approached me in 2013 to see if I’d be interested in helping to set up a study about sex trafficking in our region,” Nagy recalls.

“She had heard rumours of sex trafficking occurring within North Bay, but found there was little factual information available, and no protocols within the area for responding to persons who had been trafficked. We then reached out to the AIDS Committee of North Bay and Area, and the Union of Ontario Indians and things just grew from there.”

Human trafficking for the sex trade ranks as the world’s third most profitable crime after illicit drugs and arms trafficking. And while exploiters use various tactics to lure their victims—from bogus job ads to misrepresenting themselves on social media—Nagy says there is no “ideal victim.”

To assume trafficked persons are “passive and innocent” overlooks the complexity of the problem, she says. Also, this mindset means “individuals or situations that don’t fit this ideal may be overlooked.”

Nagy hopes her research will help community workers in the region identify cases of sex trafficking, and coordinate their responses and victim support services.

In addition to North Bay, the three-year study will focus on Sudbury, Sault Ste. Marie and Timmins—the more urban “hubs” for trafficking in the region. But rural and isolated communities like Attawapiskat and Kirkland Lake will also be explored.

As the team gathers information from survivors and community workers, they will get a sense of any patterns of activity and move their investigations in whatever direction it takes them, in search of solutions.