“She’s sweet but keeps to herself. Just a little shy, maybe she has low self-esteem? She could be that student who just moved into the apartment next door, but you don’t see her very often. Maybe she’s the neighbour you always pass in the park. She could be anyone. She could be your daughter.”
— Julia Drydyk, executive director of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking
I gotta say Julia, throwing out mildly threatening descriptions of young women is a very weird way to start your Globe and Mail op ed. Your intro reads like the voiceover on a trailer for a shitty teenspoitation slasher mixed with the top entry into an amateur short story competition on Tumblr. I get that you’re trying to scare people; human trafficking is a terrifying issue and efforts to reduce the impact of the industry on Canadians and validate the experiences of victims are valiant. But this narrative of fear is one that fails to clearly define the people it seeks to protect, actively threatens the people who live within the gaps in that definition, and lends itself to the interests of those who can’t be fucked to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the stakes.
The latter category refers mainly in this context to the Ontario PC government and its supporters, and might honestly represent the nicest way I’ve ever characterized the raging fuckwits that have so incompetently managed this province since Doug Ford’s inauguration. And they’re at it again, this time coopting Ms. Drydyk’s frightful discourse into the rollout for Ontario’s new anti-human trafficking strategy. The core of the strategy is Bill 251, the Combatting Human Trafficking Act, which is presently the subject of debate on the floor of the legislature at Queen’s Park.
The second category above refers mainly to sex workers, who are aggressively marginalized in this country and are often conflated with victims of trafficking or traffickers themselves. According to many sex work activists, bill 251 blows dicks. While the legislation does provide some further protection for victims, the bulk of it is focused on giving police more power, which is bad on so many levels. First, it requires hotel operators and, if the NDP has its way, short-term rental operators (people with airbnbs) to “keep a register of guests and record their names, residences and other prescribed information.” In some cases, police can access this information without a fucking warrant.
And it gets worse. 251 leaves a shitload of wiggle room for regulations, which are parts of the law that are left for ministers to fill in after it passes and without a public process. The bill specifically indicates that ministers may, among other things, make regulations that prescribe “additional information that must be recorded in a register, which may require recording the names, residence or other information of more than one person from a group of guests that occupies a bedroom or suite,” meaning that police can look at the information of anyone staying in a hotel, ever. Regulations might also cover “entities that post, publish or otherwise disseminate advertisements for sexual services,” which means like newspapers and websites and shit, so it’s not even just your Charter privacy rights that could be violated, it could be your speech rights too.
OPP raid? It's more likely than you think
Now, if you’re a little bit of a nerd, it might seem weird to you that the provincial government is getting involved with this issue at all, given that the federal government has jurisdiction over the criminal code, and that’s how this country deals with the sex industry — by criminalizing it. Sex work is actually technically legal in Canada, since the Supreme Court said it violated the Charter to make it illegal, but the Harper government just changed the law to just make it illegal to pay for or advertize sex work, which makes it even more dangerous for workers because tricks are now unlikely to allow themselves to be vetted. The law also makes it illegal to receive “financial or other material benefit obtained by or derived from the commission of the purchasing offence,” which means that anyone who provides security or a workplace to a known sex worker is breaking the law. The Trudeau Liberals have so far not kept their 2015 election promise to repeal that law. Shocker.
What you, my imaginary friend, might not have grasped however, is that the provincial government has jurisdiction over policing, so what Ford is doing is making it easier for police to harass sex workers — a frequent occurrence in Canada. Consenting racialized sex workers have in the past been slapped with immigration offenses and fines related to their profession during police operations against human trafficking, and cops are known to abuse their power in order to obtain free sex from workers in places like Thunder Bay.
All this is part of a broader trend in anti-human trafficking narratives which conflates trafficking with legitimate, consensual sex work, something activists have describes as a “moral panic.” The PCs have maintained that this bill was drafted in consultation with various advocacy groups seeking to end human trafficking, like the organization for which Julia Drydyk is the executive director, but sex worker advocates have maintained that these organizations’ agendas clearly seek to end sex work altogether, and aren’t focused specifically on victims of exploitation. I have no way of confirming this, and personally I think it’s a pretty big generalization, but the conclusion of Drydyk’s piece does really seem to lend credibility to this claim. She wrote, “We want to encourage all levels of government across the country to commit to funding anti-human trafficking initiatives in perpetuity.” Maybe I’m nitpicking here, but if you run an organization dedicated to ending human trafficking, wouldn’t you actually want human trafficking to end, rather than it continue to be such a plague on society that you require taxpayer money forever? I don’t know, but there’s clearly an agenda there.
Even more frustrating is the fact that no statistic that I could back up indicates that Ontario is in the throes of a such a uniquely devastating epidemic of human trafficking that these increases to police powers would be justified. The solicitor general, Sylvia Jones, who tabled Bill 251, recited an oft-quoted statistic to the press, stating that the average age a girl is trafficked is 13. This stat is demonstrably bullshit, and when U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar quoted it back in 2015, the Washington Post Fact Checker debunked the shit out of it and said that “it would be amusing if it were not so sad.” That part specifically is amazing to me because I honestly thought that if a Washington Post reporter ever published a piece with that level of cutting sass, they would be strung up and hanged as an example to the rest of the newsroom.
Also, it doesn’t take the Washington Post to show that that statistic doesn’t make any sense, because does Sylvia Jones understand what “average” means? If the average victim of trafficking is 13, it would mean there would have to be equally as many 9-year olds being lured into sex slavery as there are 17-year olds. This is the minister in charge of law enforcement? Are you fucking kidding me?
The moral panic around human trafficking is fueled by misinformation like this and Q-Anon linked conspiracies like Pizzagate and the Wayfair ‘scandal’ from this summer. Yes, trafficking children for sex is some of the worst shit that exists, but, and this might come as a surprise to you, there are already fucking laws against it. Making the lives of marginalized people harder is not the solution, and the PCs’ strategy doesn’t even do anything to fill in the gaps that do exist in the fight against trafficking, like the lack of protection for migrant workers who are sexually exploited after having their IDs confiscated by the people who brought them to this country. Plus, if Ford really wanted to protect the vulnerable, he wouldn’t have fucking cut $17 million in funding to women’s shelters, I’m just throwing that out there.
But if this whole story makes you feel like the Ford government must have completely lost touch with reality, which it appears they certainly have, you might want to hold on to something for this next part. Alongside bill 251, Ontario has launched something called “The Trap.” Here’s what the website says about it: “The Trap is an immersive chat experience that exposes youth to the realities of being targeted, recruited and exploited by a sex trafficker. It includes four scenarios based on real-life experiences and will have different journeys and results depending on what options you choose.”
They made a sex trafficking simulator, and it is precisely as awful as you think it is. This is actually something I’m really interested in because I’ve talked before on this website about how bad sexual education is in the age of the internet, and Doug Ford has even made it worse since I was in school, but on the surface this actually seems like a step in the right direction, even if it isn’t really teaching about sexuality in any way. That is, it would have been a step in the right direction, if it wasn’t so fucking bad. Maybe I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenage girl, but when I played through a couple of the scenarios, I had to physically force myself to keep talking to the people it was throwing at me because I was so violently creeped out by the idea of some 40-year old civil servant somewhere crafting sexually aggressive pickup lines to DM eighth graders.
Also, the robot traffickers I was talking to kept sending me top text/bottom text memes of stock photo animals? Not sure if that’s what the government thinks memes are, or if the $300+ million budget just wasn’t big enough to move past imgflip.com, but either way, super off-putting. I checked out the handy facilitator guide that was published along with the simulator, and it runs you through the scenarios you can encounter, so I’m just going to go over some of the more surreal text conversations you can have, and hopeful you guys will get the idea. Also, this goes without saying, but this shit is extremely uncomfortable and possibly very triggering so if you don’t want to read manipulative text messages, this can be the end of the article for you and you’re valid. Anyway, deep breath:
Nathan: “Hey *kissy winky face emoji* I saw you on Instagram. You’re gorgeous. How are you still single?
Player: “who r u?”
Nathan: “I’m friends with Brie’s bro. I’m Nathan.
Nathan: *stock photo of a yawning cat that looks excited with the words ‘when bae walks by’ superimposed over it*
Nathan: “That party was lit *fire emoji*”
Nathan: “You’re not like other girls your age. Wish I had a girl like you when my dad died. Would’ve been great to talk to someone like you.”
Nathan: “I gotta see you again”
Player: “aw thx. Sorry about your dad. I wanna see you again too.”
Nathan: “You have great taste. I feel a strong connection. One day we’ll have an amazing life together, but I need you to do something for me. I’m in trouble and I need money. Can you do me a favour? For us?”
Player: “what kind of favour?” *you get to choose between a few different options, all of them are sexual though*
Nathan: “Good girl. “
Nathan: “Your family doesn’t understand you like I do. I’m the only one who cares about you now. I promise I’ll always be there for you but you have to do your part. Even though I know all the things you’ve done, I’ll still love you. And if you try to leave, I'll expose you.
*At this point a message pops up that says “The Trap! You’ve just experienced what it’s like to be trafficked for sex.”
Yeah, that’s the one I got, and I needed you to experience it because I had to. I think you get the gist but here are a couple more out of context quotes:
A screenshot from the simulator. One of the scenarios includes being recruited by a popular girl from school
Josh: “Hey it’s Josh from last night. Nice to meet u mamacita. Do u model? Ur so beautiful. I know someone who can set you up with headshots.”
Matt: “You can always come chill with me. Your parents don’t get you like I do. How long has it been like that at home?”
Player: “my mom started drinking after my parents split. my stepdad doesn’t help.
Matt: “You got me. I get it and I’m only 27. I know what it’s like.”
Mike: “I’ve got lots of money - it’s nothing to me.”
Player: “ok lets go”
Mike: “Just give me a kiss when I see you and whatever you want is yours.”
Josh is the fucking worst bro
Okay that’s definitely enough of that. Who the fuck says “mamacita?” Here’s the thing with this program, right: the amount of disbelief that has to be suspended for anyone to be able to take this thing seriously is astounding. And even if you manage that, because you’re being forced to by a sex ed teacher or something, until the giving sexual favours to strangers stuff comes up, all you are experiencing is attention from toxic and creepy men, which is like the baseline existence for women and girls on social media. The ‘bad’ choices, the ones that lead the “The Trap,” represent normal behaviour if you are normally a simulation of what a 40-year old thinks a teenage girl is like, so why is the government implying that being trafficked is the direct result of going on a date with an older guy, or skipping class, or ignoring texts from your family?
It’s the same kind of personal responsibility gospel bullshit that made people think Scared Straight was a good idea for a TV show or that smoking weed will somehow lead directly to injecting black tar heroin. Girls can be in toxic relationships without the other person being a sex trafficker, and regardless, that abuse is not the result of the girl not saying “no” sooner. Plus, the program doesn’t set anyone up for dealing with a situation like that (or any other bad situation a teenage girl might find themselves in) other than providing some guidance on how to spot sex trafficker behaviour and which 1-800 number to call. But there’s so much more horrible shit that can happen to a teenage girl on the internet and this makes it seem like the only result of a sketchy relationship is being caught in “The Trap,” which is statistically just not going to fucking happen.
So to summarize, Doug Ford has cut sexual education that was already unequipped to prepare teenagers for modern life, replaced it with a simulator that’s both very unhinged and niche to the point of uselessness, cut funding to community-based women’s shelters, failed to address key issues within the umbrella of human trafficking, fed into societal hysteria, and strengthened instruments of repression against an already severely marginalized group while weakening the Charter rights of all Ontarians. Fuck, and I cannot stress this enough, this fucking guy.