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What Do We Know About Human Trafficking and Transportation?

Human Trafficking Corridors
Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking - Human Trafficking Corridors in Canada

A new report by the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking (CCEHT), Human Trafficking Corridors in Canada, 63 pages, 22 Feb 2021, provides several insights into human trafficking, transportation, and transportation corridors, many of which apply to the United States as well as other countries. According to the CCEHT, this is the first study of its kind to collect data from police and service providers to better understand how human trafficking corridors are used.

Transportation in Human Trafficking in General

Transportation in human trafficking serves many purposes:

  • First and foremost, transportation is a control mechanism employed by traffickers to keep victims isolated from friends, family, and other social circles leaving them unable to engage socially or reach out for help. Travel can keep victims confused, isolated and dependent on their traffickers.

  • Traffickers use human trafficking corridors to strategically maximize profits and mitigate the risks associated with operations. Traffickers stay in a given city as long as it is profitable (anywhere from one night to several weeks) and they are not detected by law enforcement. When they are detected, victims (and traffickers) move to thwart investigations by law enforcement organizations. Consistently moving from place to place — between hotels, houses, cities or provinces — helps avoid detection from law enforcement and compliance with laws that would ultimately lower traffickers’ profit and/or jeopardize their business altogether.

  • Persons trafficked along human trafficking corridors are largely advertised through online escort ads, notably

  • Travel/transportation are considered overhead expenses, together with food, accommodation, clothing/makeup and are easily absorbed due to high net profit margins resulting from the withholding of all revenues from the victims exploited by traffickers.

How Human Trafficking Corridors Operate

Human trafficking corridors are defined as strips of land or transportation routes that include two or more major cities, that are used by traffickers to move individuals between sites of commercial exploitation. In the context of sex trafficking, victims are transported between commercial sex markets. In addition to connecting multiple population centers, human trafficking corridors may extend across large geographic areas.

Human trafficking corridors connect multiple population centers, many of which serve as trafficking hubs, are both inter- and intra-provincial, and span some of the major routes taken by millions of residents every day.

Limited transportation infrastructure impacts transportation options and the quick movement of traffickers/victims in some locations but human trafficking is very prevalent and it's happening in all communities, big and small … anywhere where there's access to the internet and a highway.

While intercontinental human trafficking is prevalent, the vast percentage of victims in Canada are Canadian girls and women, rather than those coming from other countries.

Methods of Transportation

All forms of transportation are used in human trafficking but the most prevalent, especially for sex trafficking, are:

  • Cars are by far the most frequently used method of travel in human trafficking corridors, especially along circuits. The overhead costs associated with driving are lower than for air travel, and traffickers can be nimble and adjust travel routes according to demand for commercial sexual services. In some cases, traffickers rent multiple cars along their routes using fake IDs so it's harder for police to track them. Using the names of victims and survivors when renting cars helps control and coerce victims into commercial sex. For example, traffickers may threaten to damage or withhold the rental car, resulting in potential charges against the victim, unless the victim does as they are told.

  • Airplanes are also used to transport victims along human trafficking corridors, primarily when a significant distance exists between markets/cities along the corridor, and there are limited market stops between the first and final destination. Flights are used when car travel is either impossible or very inconvenient.

Intra-provincial Corridors

Intra-provincial Corridors connect cities and commercial sex markets in a single province. These geographically short circuits are easy to travel by car. They may also connect to much smaller commercial sex markets on the way to larger markets, staying a day or two in even the smallest towns if they can arrange enough commercial sexual exchanges to make it profitable for traffickers.

  • Ontario’s 401 Highway connects Montreal, QC and Windsor, ON. Between these two end points, there are several populous urban centers. Traffickers may operate along the entire 401 corridor, or capitalize on movement through a densely populated region, such as the Greater Toronto Area.

  • Calgary – Edmonton – Fort McMurray/Grande Prairie: Alberta’s human trafficking corridors connect the province’s largest online commercial sex markets, while also accessing markets affiliated with extraction work camps in Fort McMurray and Grande Prairie. This corridor is used by both traffickers local to Alberta and those from outside the province, notably from Ontario and Quebec. A growing trend in this corridor is the number of victims and survivors from Quebec who speak little to no English. Not only do language barriers serve as another method of control, but it is also believed that sex buyers see women from Quebec as exotic and novel.

Inter-Provincial Corridors

Inter-provincial corridors occur when traffickers transport victims across provinces to access various commercial sex markets. They are largely organized around accessing the most competitive and highest paying markets. Because of the additional operational costs associated with flying or driving long distances, inter-provincial corridors tend to run between large urban centers with large markets. Once a trafficker and victims arrive in a new province, they may stay and capitalize on the major urban commercial sex market in the city of arrival, or they may access other intra-provincial corridors within that province.

  • Canada’s West Coast Circuit: The Quebec – Alberta corridor has a noticeable trend in the trafficking of young women from Quebec in central and western Canada, most notably Alberta. Many victims from Montreal to Calgary are trafficked by airplane. Victims either travel with their traffickers, or may travel alone and are met by traffickers or an associate upon arrival in Alberta. Traffickers and victims may stay in Calgary and arrange for commercial sex interactions in hotels near the airport or downtown, or traffickers may move victims along Canada’s West Coast circuit, between Quebec and Alberta. Victims often are flown from Montreal to Calgary, where they work near the airport or downtown, or are then moved along the intra-provincial corridor between Calgary and Fort McMurray.

  • In the east, the corridor between Halifax, Nova Scotia and Moncton, New Brunswick is well-known. Strip clubs can legally operate in New Brunswick but not in Nova Scotia

  • The Trans-Canada Highway: The Trans-Canada highway in particular functions as a corridor that connects to commercial sex markets within all provinces, and across the country.

  • Highways 11 & 17 Northern Ontario – Winnipeg, Manitoba: Traffickers use Highways 11 & 17 to move victims from Sudbury and Thunder Bay through Northern Ontario and to connect to the online commercial sex market in Winnipeg. While the “payoff” may not be as large as in other parts of Canada due to the long distance between smaller online commercial sex markets, traffickers view the low population density and relative remoteness of these highways as a benefit in efforts to avoid detection by law enforcement.

  • Halifax, Nova Scotia – Moncton, New Brunswick: Within Atlantic Canada, the stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway between Halifax and Moncton was the most frequently mentioned and well-known human trafficking corridor. Traffickers go to Moncton not only to connect to the online commercial sex market, but also to access the commercial markets in strip clubs. Strip clubs operate in New Brunswick but are not legally permitted in Nova Scotia.

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