Issues of human trafficking and sexual exploitation addressed during 2022 Congress Day

By October 21, 2022February 26th, 2023Bishop Mark Hagemoen's blog

A day of prayer, dialogue, study and action tackling the scourge of sexual trafficking of human beings was held Oct. 20 in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon with Bishop Hagemoen, pastors, and parish and ministry representatives in attendance.

“You cannot consent to exploitation,” said Maryah Walker, an RCMP community program officer with the Investigative Support Unit’s Street Gangs and Human Trafficking Team, who outlined the ways in which victims are targeted, groomed, recruited, coerced and trapped by sex traffickers operating in local communities across Saskatchewan.

In addition to the presentation by the RCMP human trafficking team, the fall 2022 Congress Day entitled “Working Towards Freedom” included information from Hope Restored Canada, a Saskatoon-based charity assisting local victims of sexual trafficking, and Nashi, a local group that helps girls in the Ukraine who are vulnerable to human trafficking.

Congress keynote speaker Sr. Nancy Brown – a Sister of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul and a member of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee for the Archdiocese of Vancouver – addressed the legal landscape and the need for ongoing advocacy, as well as introducing St. Josephine Bakhita, the patron saint of those who have been trafficked.

RCMP members Maryah Walker and Cpl. Myron Hleck of the Investigative Support Unit’s Street Gangs and Human Trafficking Team at diocesan Congress Day. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Congress Day opened with Mass celebrated by diocesan Vicar General Fr. Kevin McGee. Myron Rogal, diocesan coordinator of Justice and Peace, provided opening remarks and the context for the day, which was attended by Pastors, Parish Life Directors, parish and ministry staff, as well as interested volunteers and parishioners. MC was Michael MacLean of St. Thomas More College Campus Ministry.

Rogal encouraged those gathered to move beyond a “false peace” of avoiding or tuning out the uncomfortable realities of the human trafficking and sexual exploitation that is rampant in local communities and around the world. He called for a “new lens” to examine the injustice, suffering and exploitation caused by human trafficking both locally and globally.

Human trafficking is second only to arms dealing as the largest criminal activity in the world amounting to some $150 billion annually, Rogal noted, while adding that it is also an issue that is smaller and more immediate, happening in our own local communities.

In addition to raising awareness about sexual exploitation, prostitution, and how victims are lured, coerced and trafficked, the Congress Day also showed “that there is hope and resilience,” said Rogal, pointing to grassroots efforts underway both locally (Hope Restored) and internationally (Nashi).

Hope Restored Canada, based in Saskatoon, is a non-profit charitable organization working to support women and youth who have been exploited by sex traffickers. A steak-night fund-raiser and 50/50 draw in support of Hope Restored will be held Sunday, Nov. 6 at Sports on Tap, 2606 Lorne Ave. Saskatoon, beginning with cocktails at 5 p.m. and supper at 6:30 p.m.; $30/each. Get tickets at: LINK.

NASHI is an entirely volunteer non-profit registered charity addressing the issue of human trafficking locally and globally. A fund-raising Ukrainian Christmas Bazaar in support of Nashi will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 25 and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26 at St. Joseph Hall on the corner of Broadway Avenue and 8th St. Saskatoon; admission $5. All proceeds go in support of Maple Leaf House in Ukraine.

Next steps: new study guide launched

The “Working Toward Freedom” Study Guide was created as a call to mission; to reduce the harms of human trafficking in our local communities and uphold the dignity of every child of God. (Artwork by Tianna WIlliams, courtesy of Ascension Press)

Next steps for advocacy and action were also part of the day’s discussions. This included the introduction of a “Working Towards Freedom” human trafficking study guide soon to be launched in the Catholic dioceses of Saskatoon and Vancouver. The study guide is designed to help parishioners explore the issue, in the context of the Canadian Catholic bishops 2021 Pastoral Letter on Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Canada.

The Congress Day event provided “an opportunity to see what is happening, an opportunity to learn, to pray together, to understand, and to come up with some ways to take action together,” Rogal summarized. “This time together is one of proclaiming awakening and encountering.”

Hope Restored Canada

Joeline Magill, co-founder and executive director of Hope Restored Canada, spoke about the non-profit registered charity’s work to assist and support sexually exploited and trafficked individuals and youth in Saskatchewan as they strive to reclaim control of their lives, as well as to educate the public about root causes, prevention strategies, and how to recognize the signs of exploitation.

Joeline Magill, co-founder and Executive Director of Hope Restored Canada spoke at Congress Day. (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

As part of its work Hope Restored Canada also operates a safe house in Saskatoon for women and girls wanting to exit the sex trade. “They can live with us for up to a year, or sometimes even longer,” she described. Counsellors and social workers on staff help determine what needs to be worked on to give victims back their control, their identity, and to deal with their trauma, Magill added.

“We are really passionate about making sure that those who are deeply affected by this are attended to,” said Magill.

In her overview, Magill presented statistics showing the scope and nature of human trafficking:

  • 93 per cent of people who are trafficked in Canada are Canadian citizens. “The reality is that trafficking in Canada is a Canadian issue,” she said.
  • 91 per cent of those involved in prostitution have been physically assaulted
  • 91 per cent of victims have had pornography made of them
  • 42 per cent of recruiters are women, who are controlled by a pimp
  • Most youth who have run away from home or protective services are picked up by traffickers within 24-48 hours.

In addition to sexual exploitation and prostitution, human trafficking around the world also includes forced labour, domestic servitude and removal of organs, she cited.

Human trafficking exists where there is fear (violence, fear for one’s life,  fear for one’s family), some type of fraud or manipulation, and an exchange of money – “where the person who is doing the action is not able to keep the money they are making, but must had it off” to the trafficker, she described. Sex trafficking is happening through online sites and advertising, at massage parlors, brothels, strip clubs, in the making of pornography and through people working on the street, she listed.

Magill outlined a range of warning signs that indicate someone is being groomed, recruited, isolated, and manipulated for human trafficking – which in many cases are similar to signs of other unhealthy relationships and domestic violence.

She urged her listeners to persevere in enduring the “uncomfortability” of learning more about sexual exploitation and human trafficking in order to find ways to respond with help and compassion.

RCMP Human Trafficking Team

RCMP Community Program Officer Maryah Walker also detailed the ways in which human traffickers will research their victim, most often online. “They are going to target anywhere they can – technology has made this so easy.”

RCMP representatives Maryah Walker and Myron Hleck (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Walker gave an overview of how traffickers will use popular social media apps to connect with their potential victims, searching for weaknesses, vulnerabilities and neediness. Traffickers engage in targeted grooming, offering victims what they need – affirmation, affection, attention, protection, validation, etc. Once a relationship is built, manipulation continues, with empty promises, withdrawal of the needed affection or protection, threats and violence. “Often times those chains are psychological,” Walker added.

Victims are drawn in gradually and then are coerced, manipulated or threatened into selling sexual services. Fear, isolation, entrapment and manipulation continue, with victims often seeing no way out, afraid to report or go to police, believing they will be held criminally responsible, although it is no longer illegal in Canada to sell sexual services. Canada’s law does make it illegal to benefit from the exploitation of another person or to purchase another person’s body for sexual gratification.

However, Walker noted that human trafficking and the buying of sex are crimes that go virtually unnoticed. “We often think that sexual exploitation doesn’t happen anymore because we don’t see the streetwalkers or the prostitutes that we often identify. But that is because it has moved indoors. Streetwalkers don’t have to walk the street anymore, because they can sell the services online.”

Sexual trafficking is lucrative, and victims are “a renewable resource” that can be sold over and over again, unlike arms or drugs, Walker noted. “And because it is moving indoors, because it is happening online, because it is not in the faces of our lawmakers and people seeing it… no one cares.”

Walker added: “Oftentimes we look at the individuals that are being exploited and we hold them as being less-valuable-than , less-important-than, less-worthy-than.”

Walker said that a victim- centred approach is needed. If asked “Are you being trafficked?” victims are going to say “no,” she noted.

“What we are doing in our unit and what best practise has become is that it is not necessarily about getting that statement and getting someone arrested right away, it is about ensuring that that individual (who is being trafficked)… has a connection to safety and stability… it can be really challenging sometimes when you don’t trust police, to walk into a police station. It comes down to relationships… when they are ready to seek help, you need to be there.”

Walker encouraged Congress Day participants to contact the RCMP human trafficking unit if situations arise in which someone who is being trafficked needs to know what their options are, or needs to find a safe place – such as the house run by Hope Restored Canada.

Nashi provides help for vulnerable girls in Ukraine

Savelia Curniski of Nashi (Photo by Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News)

Savelia Curniski spoke about the work of Nashi, a Saskatoon-based charity founded in 2004 after founders heard a presentation by journalist and author Victor Malarek about the brutal trafficking of vulnerable teenage girls from Eastern Europe in the global sex trade.

Nashi’s goals include educating youth and the general public about human trafficking through seminars, workshops and conferences, and diverting youth from exploitation by operating a safe house in Ukraine for at-risk vulnerable girls.

Curniski described the work and goals of Nashi, and the recent impact of the war in Ukraine on the ministry of Maple Leaf House, which has included evacuating the girls from Ukraine to a safe spot in Poland.

Sr. Nancy Brown, SC

Congress Day continued with an online presentation by Sr. Nancy Brown, CJ, in which she examined the Catholic theological grounding found in the “Nordic model” of prostitution law, which makes the selling of sex legal, but criminalizes both the buying of sex (“the johns”) and profiting from selling another person’s body for sexual exploitation (“the pimps”).

Canada’s recently-revamped law reflects the “Nordic model,” which treats prostitutes themselves as victims needing assistance to exit the profession while criminalizing other aspects of prostitution.

Brown traced Catholic teaching in the spirit and words of the preamble to Canada’s 2014 Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).

Brown’s mission to raise awareness about sexual exploitation and human trafficking stems from her two decades of work at Covenant House Vancouver, which deals with youth on the streets.

As part of her address at Congress Day, Brown also provided “A Tribute to St. Josephine Bakhita” in which she shared details about the life and work of the patron saint of those who are trafficked.

Born in 1869 in Darfur (Sudan),  Josephine Margaret Bakhita was abducted by slave traders and was bought and sold several times, before being taken to Italy. There she gained her freedom after a ruling by the Italian court in 1889, and in January 1890, she was baptized and received confirmation and first communion from the Cardinal Patriarch of Venice who would later be named Pope Pius X. Three years later St. Josephine entered the novitiate of the Canossian Sisters. She died in 1947 and was canonized a saint on Oct. 1, 2000. Her feast day is marked on Feb. 8.





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