Impacts and Barriers for Women who have Experienced Trafficking

Publication Date: 
Resource Origin: 

Trafficking is a form of violence.  It involves controlling the victim by use of threat, force, assault, manipulation, fostering of drug and alcohol dependencies, coercion and abuse of power.  Women can have injuries from assaults, such as broken bones, burns and other wounds. They can experience a variety of illnesses from deprivation of food, water and sleep.  Women are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy, gynaecological problems and sexually transmitted infections from sexual assaults. They can experience a range of emotional health issues such as: post traumatic stress disorders, panic attacks, depression, addiction and feelings of fear and shame.  As with women who experience other types of violence, there are long term affects of the violence that may result in long-term illness or disability.

While women who have experienced trafficking may be in need of support it is very difficulty to get the information about where they can get help directly into their hands. The very nature of this type of violence is covert, whether women are trafficked to engage in criminal enterprise or domestic work; very little of the actual work takes place in a public place or business. Women who have been trafficked most often have little contact with the community they have been trafficked to, which makes it very difficult to find and access help.  Women who have been trafficked at a young age or by family members may not recognize some of their experiences as exploitive, as they have had little access to information about their rights.  Often women are not allowed out in the community alone.   

For many women who have been trafficked, fear of police and other authorities is a primary barrier.  Sometimes the trafficker fosters fear of the police, by holding her documentation or by telling the woman that she will be arrested or deported.  Some women have had hostile or life-threatening experiences in their past with the police or military which have left them fearful of interacting with government authority.  Women are suspicious of professionals that appear to be sponsored or work for the government such as health professionals, social workers and teachers. Furthermore some women’s actions are deemed criminal or deviant and as such they are at risk of arrest.

Women are also at risk from the traffickers themselves.  Some women are brutally forced to comply with their captors’ demands through violence and threats of violence; or violence to their families.  They can often have their personal possessions, legal documents and identification taken and withheld, and they can be threatened with exposure to not only the authorities but to their communities, from whom they may experience threats, violence or stigmatization.   There are also women who make decisions to stay in their situation in order to reach their end goal of a better life for themselves and their families.  They believe that if they endure the exploitation they can find their own way out of their situation.  

As advocates we need to work to provide women with options and information and to support her decisions even if we believe that we would make different ones in her place.  Violence is the use of power to control another’s thoughts, beliefs and actions. We must work hard not to reproduce that dynamic in the work we do because we believe we know best – because really, we don’t. 

Ontario has no specific services for women who have experienced trafficking, therefore, each of us should encourage our government to go further in its efforts to keep women safe and provide appropriate services.  The following are some of the recommendations developed during the course of the “Initiating Support for Female Victims of Trafficking in Toronto”.

Service Recommendations:

  • Government should fund the creation of specialized shelters for women who have been trafficked, that are fully funded and staffed with workers who have training in settlement and violence against women issues.

  • A 24-hour hotline for women who have been trafficked should be fully funded.

  • Development of wrap around services for women who have experienced trafficking that includes: interpretation, health, legal, counselling, housing and settlement.  Look at case manager style.

  • The province of Ontario should create a fund to offer women who have been trafficked access to alternative and non-traditional health practitioners to allow for cultural differences.

  • Provide in-depth training for settlement workers, language and cultural interpreters, lawyers, traditional and non-traditional health practitioners, on the specific health, lifestyle and legal needs of women who have been trafficked. 

  • Offer the training through the Toronto Training Board.

  • Ensure all training addresses confidentiality and security of information.

  • Women should have immediate access to applying for income support programs and non-profit housing.