Critical window of time to educate children about sex trafficking

TORONTO, December 6, 2018 – Unsuspecting girls as young as 13 are being lured into the highly lucrative world of sex trafficking across Canada. New research indicates parents can play a pivotal role in educating their daughters about online luring and sex trafficking at a young age before their risk factors increase.

These findings came as a result of a recent national study conducted by Covenant House Toronto and Ipsos Public Affairs to better understand the attitudes and behaviours that put teen girls at greater risk for sex trafficking. The results will inform Covenant House’s awareness and education programs to help prevent girls from being lured online or from local malls and schoolyards by traffickers who often pose as potential boyfriends.

“This landmark survey of teenaged girls is the first of its kind in Canada. The data and insights gleaned from this study can help governments, not-for-profits and parents better support and guide teenaged girls away from behaviour that could lead to greater risk of falling victim to sex trafficking,” says Mitra Thompson, Senior Account Manager, Ipsos Public Affairs. “The survey also acts as a catalyst for society to have an open and frank discussion about an issue that isn’t talked about enough in public—which is important given that improved familiarity with sex trafficking and its risks can lead to safer behaviour among teenaged girls.”

Study findings reveal that only 38 per cent of teenage girls say their parents are “very aware” of their social media activity. It also shows that as girls age and their social media usage increases, they become even less likely to talk to their parents about challenges they are experiencing, both on and offline, thereby increasing their risk factors.  While girls indicate some familiarity with the term sex trafficking, few are “very familiar” with it and there is a significant gap between 12 and 16 year olds.  The good news is that parents who engage in open dialogue with their daughters at a younger age help build trust and impart a strong perception of risk and knowledge of what to do in challenging situations.

The findings from our research with sex trafficking survivors and advocates also demonstrate the importance of education around sex trafficking and communication with parents. Many survivors lacked a big picture understanding of what was happening to them and the right vocabulary to describe it to others. These factors, combined with not knowing where to turn to for help, were key barriers to leaving their situations.

“Talking to our daughters about sex trafficking can have a big impact on the decisions they make. 59 per cent of girls say they have a friend who has done things online that were not safe. The more girls and their parents know about the risks, the better equipped they are to protect themselves,” says Julie Neubauer, Manager, Human Trafficking Services with Covenant House Toronto. “Survivors we’ve worked with have told us they would have been more likely to seek help sooner if they had felt comfortable sharing their experiences with their parents without fear of judgement or punishment.”

Last year Covenant House Toronto supported 90 sexually exploited and trafficked victims. It intends to use these insights to launch an awareness campaign for teen girls as part of its comprehensive Urban Response Model anti-trafficking plan. These results will also inform the agency’s awareness, education and training programs targeted to students within the Greater Toronto area and industry sectors most likely to come in contact with sex trafficking victims, such as hotels.

About the study:

Both qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted for this research. The qualitative study consisted of one-on-one interviews with sex trafficking survivors, their parents and advocates as well as online mini-groups with teenage girls, ages 12 to 16, and parents. The quantitative survey, which was informed by the qualitative study results, polled 501 girls between the ages of 12 and 16 in rural communities and urban centres across Canada between April 1 and April 9, 2018.

To review the study findings in greater detail, click here to access the IPSOS Factum.

For more information, contact:

Tracie LeBlanc
Associate Director of Communications
Covenant House Toronto
Direct: 416-204-7081
Mobile: 416-524-0854

Ipsos Public Affairs
Mitra Thompson
Senior Account Manager