The Salvation Army’s Fight Against Human Trafficking

The Fight for Freedom
by Alberta

From its beginnings, The Salvation Army has fought against modern slavery and human trafficking. In 1885, in coalition with social campaigners such as William T. Stead, Salvationists exposed the entrapment, abduction and sale of young girls and women into London brothels and effectively campaigned for changes in the law.

– The Salvation Army International

Generating a billion dollars per year, modern slavery and human trafficking (MSHT) is one of the fastest growing criminal activities around the world, second only to the sale of drugs. Victims become trafficked by means of threat, force, deception, or psychological manipulation, where they are trapped with no opportunity to escape.

In the case of labour trafficking, “They have no freedom; their documents are often taken,” said Major Raelene Russell, The Salvation Army Divisional Resource Officer for Alberta & Northern Territories. “There is a threat made ‘if you don’t do this, we know where your family is and we’re going to hurt them,’ and for a lot of people, it’s enough to keep them doing what they’re doing.”

MSHT can take the form of sexual exploitation (sex trafficking), forced labour, domestic servitude, and trafficking for the purpose of organs removal. It can be hard to believe that this type of activity occurs in seemingly quiet Canadian towns and cities, but it does.

“Humans who become victims of human trafficking end up as slaves,” Major Russell said.

According to the Not In My City (NIMC) campaign in Calgary, the annual profit per exploited female is $280,000. Also, there is a disproportionate representation of Indigenous women and girls as being 50 per cent of victims, but only 4 per cent of the country’s population.

The often targeted demographic of 12 to 14-year-old females is particularly vulnerable specifically when there is a history of child abuse, poverty, mental health issues, and body image concerns. Additionally, individuals who have been involved in the foster care system or are considered runaways are especially vulnerable to predators.

“The preponderance of victims are recruited, groomed, and exploited by someone they’ve known,” said Major Russell.


A Call to Help

In 2010 while working in the British Columbia division for The Salvation Army, Major Russell was asked to sit on the anti-human trafficking committee. Her introduction to this new role afforded her a tour of Deborah’s Gate, a Salvation Army safe house for women who have been trafficked – a first in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. It’s a place of hope and restoration for women who are looking to get away from MSHT that offers resources, services, and supports.

“It just really lit something in me that it’s happening in my community and motivated me to ask what do we do about it?” Major Russell said.

The biggest challenges that organizations face when helping those affected by human trafficking are immediate housing, lack of resources, and long-term support.

“Once the person wants out, you have to jump in the moment,” Major Russell said. “You can’t say, okay give me a week because by then forget it, they’ve changed their minds.”

The stigmas surrounding human trafficking, which can include the belief that men are not victims, plays a major role in the scarce resources available to those men who are looking to get away.


The Salvation Army’s International Mission

The Salvation Army is committed to fighting MSHT and has put forth a response strategy to raise awareness through education. Their International Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking Response Strategy, Fight for Freedom, invites everyone to participate through a response framework that focuses on eight pillars: prayer, participation, prevention, protection, prosecution, policy, partnership, and proof.

The 2020 launch of this International Strategy involves a holistic approach focused on four main goals: Awareness and Training, Prevention and Outreach, Survivor Services and Recovery, and Partnerships and Advocacy.

The Salvation Army has worked to protect those who have been affected by MSHT by providing services and programs such as housing, medical assistance, and social services but more safe houses and long term care is needed when it comes to directly dealing with MSHT victims.


“The shame factor is huge. The girls feel like they have no option, so they do it and they get sucked into this horrific world”


How it can happen

Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit, or destination for victims. Meaning they can be trafficked into slavery domestically within their own countries, or internationally to a destination country, often in search of a better life from poverty-stricken countries – usually in response to a deceptive opportunity for work or study.

“We (Canada) are a destination, transit, and source country,” Major Russell said.

Grooming is another way that predators lure victims into their grasps. Depending on the situation, the luring and grooming process can take as little as a few days or weeks while for others it can take years of manipulation and coercion for a victim to succumb to the plans of their predator. A predator is not like we see depicted in the movies; he or she can be someone close to them like a relative, romantic partner, employer, or family friend.

“The shame factor is huge,” said Major Russell. “The girls feel like they have no option, so they do it and they get sucked into this horrific world.”

According to NIMC, the long-term effects of a traumatic experience such as trafficking includes an increase in the development of chronic diseases such as addiction, anxiety, depression, and heart disease – even decades after their experience. The process of a victim exiting the sex trade can take an average of three years and seven attempts.

A statistic from NIMC shows the number of hours kids log on to their devices has increased by 616 per cent since 2014. This has allowed for exploiters to “shop” for victims at every hour of the day.

“Be aware that it’s happening and talk to your kids, grandkids or kids that you have influence over that you love, age appropriately but know what they’re doing online,” Major Russell said.


Educate yourself that it’s a reality in our community. Don’t assume that it doesn’t happen, or that it can’t happen to your child


What you can do

Our children are vulnerable so raising awareness and educating others is the most important way to get involved and stop it before it happens.

“Educate yourself that it’s a reality in our community. Don’t assume that it doesn’t happen, or that it can’t happen to your child,” Major Russell said.

The Fight for Freedom strategy created by The Salvation Army International Social Justice Commission outlines The Salvation Army’s international strategy for combatting modern slavery and human trafficking.

On Sunday September 27, join The Salvation Army worldwide as we collectively raise our voices for the Annual Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking.

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