New Hotline Launched as Part of a National Effort to Combat Human Trafficking

CEO Barbara Gosse says more needs to be done to combat one of the worst human rights abuses occurring in our country today

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Content warning: this article discusses issues related to sexual violence and assault.

Reachable at 1-833-900-1010, a Human Trafficking Hotline was launched by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking (CCEHT) in early June. The 24-hour hotline is the first of its kind in Canada, and is available in more than 200 languages and dialects.

“The first call came in at 10:00 am on the day of the launch, and we’ve been fielding calls ever since,” says Barbara Gosse, CEO of CCEHT. “The hotline has been operating for three weeks now … [and] we’ve already had a couple hundred calls.”

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According to Gosse, the CCEHT believes that “a well-informed public” is in the best position to fight human trafficking, and helping Canadians to recognize the signs of human trafficking is where collective action can start. 

“Let me start off by saying that human trafficking is a hidden crime, occuring in communities across Canada,” she says. “Common recruitment practices involve isolating victims from family and friends and then transporting them to unfamiliar areas, often from province to province. Ultimately, they are forced to provide labour or a service, often being forced into the sex industry.”

“The gang I was involved with ran its own escort company,” says Jackie Ellis, speaking about her first hand experience in proximity to trafficking offenses. “A lot of girls I knew worked half-willingly … usually in situations where they needed money to fuel their drug addictions. Several other girls I knew were forced into straight-up prostitution.”

In the beginning, Ellis says she witnessed girls being “repeatedly raped as a way of initiation,” and also “kept high enough that they become dependant on their pimps to avoid withdrawal.”

“They’re taught how to work the streets and forced to bring back a certain amount of money to meet quota, and if they don’t, they don’t get their next high or a place to sleep. Pimps prey on young girls, often with substance abuse problems or in poor living situations like foster care,” she says. “I’ve seen a lot of runaways end up in sex work.”

Ellis believes that the human trafficking hotline has the potential to be helpful, but adds that the difficult part will be “getting that number and the information out there to the people who need it.”

“Not every woman is looking for an out, but a lot of them just don’t know it’s a possibility,” she says.

In response to Ellis’s concern, Gosse says her organization wants to ensure that they are “informed by experience.”

“Call advocates have received over 60 hours of victim-centered specialized training from experts who have worked in this field for extensive periods of time,” she says. “They will provide a localized response to all callers, no matter where they are in the country.”

When receiving a call, the hotline operators begin by ensuring that the caller is in a safe place to talk. They then ask a series of questions to evaluate the needs of the caller, and to discern whether or not they need to contact law enforcement. Operators will only call the police if the law compels them to do so. Otherwise, the calls are completely confidential. 

According to Gosse, an integrated strategy between the provinces and the federal government is needed to address the problem of human trafficking on a broader scale.

“Because human trafficking crosses jurisdictional boundaries, we need to ensure that we’re all working together,” she says. “No one organization or level of government can do this on their own.”

The legal name of Jackie Ellis has been changed for confidentiality reasons.

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