Prevention study with teen girls and survivors


Covenant House and market research firm Ipsos conducted a national research study with the following objectives:

  • To better understand the attitudes and behaviours of teen girls that may put them at greater risk of sex trafficking.
  • To help assess learnings and inform our sex trafficking education and intervention initiatives, including an awareness campaign for teen girls and caregivers.

The study included both an online survey of 500 girls aged 12 to 16, and interviews with survivors of sex trafficking, their parents and anti-trafficking advocates.

Key Findings

The study 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. Education and open dialogue are key to creating awareness and recognizing the warning signs and risky behaviours that could lead to being unwittingly lured into sex trafficking.

The teenage girls who reported that their parents were aware of their online social media activity or felt they could talk to their parents about anything expressed greater awareness of the risks of certain behaviours. They were also more likely to avoid engaging in many of those risky behaviours.

Talking to our daughters about sex trafficking can have a big impact on the decisions they make. The more girls and their parents know about the risks, the better equipped they are to protect themselves.

Sex trafficking survivor study highlights

Survivors of sex trafficking told us there were several factors that increased their vulnerability to becoming sex trafficked, such as:

  • Their lives were in turmoil
  • They had an unmet need that was exploited

Several factors affected their ability to recognize they were being lured and/or  able to leave once trafficked, including:

  • Not knowing what a healthy relationship looks like
  • Lacking a big picture understanding of what was happening
  • Missing the right vocabulary to describe what was happening
  • Being too embarrassed to ask for help
  • Not knowing where to turn for help

Risk factors

In an effort to better understand the attitudes and behaviours that may put teen girls at a greater risk for sex trafficking, we learned:

  • Only 51% of 12-year-olds were familiar with the term "sex trafficking" compared to 85% among 16-year-olds.
  • 59% of teenage girls agreed they had a friend who had done things online that weren’t safe.
  • Only 38% of teen girls claimed their own parents were ‘very aware’ of their social media activity.
  • 78% girls aged 12-14 said they talked to their parents about online safety, while older girls aged 15-16 were less likely (69%) to broach the topic with their parents.

The more girls are familiar with the term sex trafficking, the more likely they are to take steps to ensure their safety and be confident they would know if they were being catfished online. For example, they are more likely to:

  • Keep their phone on whenever they leave the house.
  • Only go to parties/homes where they know the host or go with someone who does.
  • Talk about internet safety with friends.

The more parents are aware of their daughters’ social media activity, the less often girls engage in risky behaviours, such as:

  • Responding to online messages from people they don’t know in person.
  • Accepting a friend or follow request from people they’ve never met in person.

About the study

Both qualitative and quantitative studies were conducted for this research. The qualitative study consisted of 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.