Human trafficking is an area of inquiry that receives an immense amount of attention from law enforcement, government, media and the philanthropic and non-governmental sectors. The term itself is often conflated with sex work, exploitation and migration for work.
Due to this conflation, we actually know very little about the magnitude of human trafficking in Canada.
Despite this, a variety of unsubstantiated statistics and claims are used by awareness campaigns and fundraising efforts. People donate millions of dollars to an ill-defined problem, sometimes with no understanding of how harmful the mainstream narrative is for sex workers, especially migrant and immigrant (im/migrant) sex workers.
When SWAN was conceived in 2002, ‘human trafficking’ was not even a criminal offence in Canada. Over the last 15 years, we have seen a reframing of migrant and immigrant sex work as human trafficking, effectively erasing the lived experiences of im/migrant women who do sex work. This reframing has had a detrimental impact on the women who SWAN supports. Indeed, when im/migrant sex workers tell their stories, they are resourceful, hard-working, self-determined and resilient.