Here is a story that I read last week entitled “Caught in human traffic”. Coincidentally, I also happened to read it the day before I was presenting my paper on human trafficking of Indigenous women/girls which argues that these new anti-human trafficking legislation(s) and/or policies are in effect an attempt to control Indigenous women’s bodies/sexuality, and in a much broader significance, Indigenous sovereignty. I am not alone in this argument as Laura Agustin describes this social phenomena in similar terms. Smith on Agustin writes,
She said that the words “human trafficking” started entering the lexicon in a serious way around 2003 and 2004. Now, she maintained that the language is shifting to emphasize slavery. She bluntly described this movement as a colonial initiative. (Smith, 2011)
I was not impressed with the above LFpress story and the significant claim being made by the alleged victim in this story. After speaking to multiple mutual friends who both know the victim in this story and the dancer who committed suicide (who is mentioned in this story), I decided to write this blog post. The article reads,
Most importantly she throws a lifeline to the women being trafficked on the circuit she once worked. But sometimes the rope misses. “The hardest part is losing them,” she said, referencing a girl who hung herself three months ago. “Her stage name was Alex, but I want to say her real name out loud – it’s Michelle – because she was a real person,” said Stacey.
The suggestion that this victim knew Alex/Michelle well enough to know her reasons for suicide is a falsification of Alex/Michelle’s story to sensationalize the alleged victim’s own story to solidify the argument that human trafficking in London ON (or in Ontario in general). Most importantly, it is also a complete disregard for the families/friends of Alex/Michelle. I even commented on the article and another reader suggested that I was in denial that her suicide was connected to human trafficking. I can tell you right now that the suggestion that Alex/Michelle committed suicide because of human trafficking is a blatant lie. I can also tell you that the victim in the story did not know Alex/Michelle. In fact, she was not allowed in the club or anywhere near the club where Alex/Michelle worked (from a mutual friend who knows the victim and Alex/Michelle). So to suggest she tried to “save her” is another blatant lie. Also, the article has Alex/Michelle’s death date wrong because she died last August 2012 not three months ago. To put it plainly: another blatant lie, and she just doesn’t know what she is talking about when it comes to someone I lived with, was my neighbor, had a relationship with, knew her parents, was there for the birth of her child, and a magnitude of other life events.
This idea that anti-human traffickers make up statistics or stories or use the lives/deaths of people no longer around anymore always seem so distant to me. However, after reading this article, I knew that I had to do something; hence, I am writing this blog post.
I am not here to suggest that people who are exploited or victimized should not have their stories acknowledged; however, if claims are going to be made about certain populations then these claims need to be legitimate and not further exploited for financial gain which is what is happening here with this idea that human trafficking occurs in London ON. I wrote about the research that suggests that “1:5 in sex workers” are trafficked (you can read more HERE). There are huge amounts of government grants and research grants that are being poured into program planning and program implementation locally, nationally, and internationally. In fact, Agustin mentions that one does not even have to mention “trafficking” to receive funding. I guess that is why the research report that I cited in my previous blog post “Human Trafficking in London?!?!’ mentions “Aboriginal women” only briefly (I mean, there are loads of money pouring into organizations and institutions that seek to investigate the lives of this “vulnerable population.”). While describing the picture of two white-abled bodied men drawing attention to “vulnerable women,” Agustin writes,
They don’t mention trafficking too loudly, but that is now the keyword to access much funding for ‘women’s issues’. It wouldn’t matter that these two guys are unlikely to have met any trafficked victims or know what to do if they did.
Another issue that needs to be addressed with the anti-human traffickers’ crusade is the organizations involved. As state in the article, the alleged victim received help from the Salvation Army and is a member of the London Anti-Human Trafficking coalition (LAHTC). I had a class last year and it was entitled “Sociology of Deviance.” In this class I learned that the LAHTC argues that the strippers/exotic dancers who are being trafficked travel in groups along the Windsor Corridor which is also described in the LFPress article. The reason strippers/exotic dancers travel in groups to various clubs in Ontario is because it is safer! It can even be argued that it is suggested that non-sex work women should not travel alone or employ safe travel practices when traveling alone like changing rooms if a stranger over hears the hotel agent announcing the room in the lobby while presenting a room key to the female guest. So then why is there a difference in traveling advice/tips for sex workers? Must they absolutely travel alone in order not to be considered a trafficking vicim? Must they put the consideration of anti-human traffickers and their ideals of sex workers above their own income/employment by sticking to one club, absolutely?
Not only does the LAHTC propose outlandish ideas that suggest a sex worker is being trafficked, the training manuals that have been created also create problems for all those involved in this anti-human trafficking crusade. This short 6 minute video is a fine example of the problems associated with training for the rehabilitation of human trafficking victims:
Although not obvious, the training manual suggests that prostitution can be found at health clinics (???), and that God intended for sexual relations to only happen between man/woman (hello transphobia/homophobia), and the there needs to be a “restoration” of sexuality to this natural intention, and finally, what to expect from human trafficking victims: masturbation (!?!?!?), confused sexuality (!?!!??!), and STIs (!?!??!). So not only does it cause stigmatization among the victims, it assumes that the only way for a victim to be truly saved he/she must conform to societal gender/sex norms. It also suggests that all those in the sex industry have STIs. I always wondered where this idea came from and why the reader in the above LFpress article suggested that prostitution be legalized (not decriminalized which is what is really being asked of the courts with the Bedford et al. case before the SCC), and that all “prostitutes” should undergo mandatory STI testing–I guess this is where the idea originates from that all those involved even those who are considered human trafficking victims will have STIs which is also indicated in this US based website. Hello stigmatization!!!
In addition to the above paragraph, what is really alarming about this video is the role-playing suggestions for facilitators of groups and as the voice-over announces, “it is a perfect example of sexual exploitation” because the facilitator must call on a volunteer (actually a woman), then blindfold one and then gag the other, and having the gagged-other to call out for help. A big WHAT-THE-EFF! This training manual is the training manual of the same Christian/Faith based organization mentioned in the LFpress: the Salvation Army.
So hey people of London, while you read about these stories and these suggestions that human trafficking exists in Southern Ontario, please be critical of where you are reading the information, who is presenting the information because it is clear that the organizations involved will exploit the lives/deaths of others for their own agenda and own gain.