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Canadians unaware of warning signs of sex trafficking

Canadians unaware of warning signs of sex trafficking: new survey

Public relations students and CivicAction shed light on sex trafficking awareness as part of a campaign called “For a Friend”


Toronto, Ont. February 20, 2020 – A majority of Canadians (73%) believe sex trafficking starts with an abduction off the streets and 47% equate it with being kidnapped and forced to trade sex for money – both common misconceptions as victims are often groomed, lured and recruited, likely by someone they know. This is according to a recent survey conducted by Maru/Blue on behalf of CivicAction and public relations students at Centennial College in an effort to shed light on this growing crime in Canada.

The results of the survey are being released in the lead up to National Human Trafficking Awareness Day on February 22. The survey results reinforce the lack of awareness, common myths and the limitations in the ability to spot the signs of sex trafficking and may explain why this crime is growing so quickly in Canada.

CivicAction, a not-for-profit organization working to boost civic engagement and build better cities, has sex trafficking on its agenda because of the prevalence and impact on the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). “CivicAction sits at the nexus of where all sectors and many communities converge. Our role on this issue is to bring experts, police, survivors, community organizations and the private sector together to raise awareness. Sex trafficking is hiding in plain sight and we need to better educate people on how to spot and stop it,” says Tamara Balan, Interim CEO, CivicAction.

“One of the reasons we wanted to work on this project with CivicAction was that many of us working on this assignment either have a friend of a friend or know somebody affected by sex trafficking,” says Sarah El-Bakri, post-graduate public relations student working on the “For a Friend” campaign. This was validated by the survey which found that one in 10 people in Canada either know, or suspect they know, somebody being trafficked for sex.

The “For a Friend” campaign will use social media and a podcast to better inform students of the statistics, signs and resources available on sex trafficking using the hashtag #forafriend. The students hope this will lead to a broader conversation and ultimately action to help their peers who may be victims or potential victims of sex trafficking.

The survey also found that 85% of Canadians think strangers are sex traffickers, despite other recent studies by Canadian Women’s Foundation that found more than a third of victims were recruited by men they considered to be their boyfriends and another 25% were lured through friends, most often victims themselves.

“We were intrigued by the students’ perspective on this critical issue,” says Balan. Students wanted to approach the campaign as peers helping peers; an important audience when it comes to those in your life that could spot the signs and offer help.

“Sex trafficking in the GTHA is happening in places we might least expect, including educational institutions. We need to start paying attention to what is happening in these places because it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” says El-Bakri.

Some signs of a trafficked victim can include:

  • isolation from friends, family and the outside world;
  • secretive behaviour;
  • unexplained new high-end clothing, jewellery, extravagant gifts and cash;
  • always accompanied by a controlling partner; and
  • having a new boyfriend, girlfriend or friend they won’t introduce to friends and family.

“We are very encouraged this group of students is drawing public attention to this critical issue,” says Yasmin Razack, Director, Global Citizenship Education and Inclusion, Centennial College. “The College is already working to address sexual violence as part of a larger province-wide initiative. We invite all universities and colleges to join us and ensure students have the necessary supports on campus if they, or a friend, is involved in sex trafficking.”

When questioned about what they would do if they were suspicious of someone they knew being trafficked for sex, 86% of survey respondents answered they would go to the police. The police can help and there are also other options. If you or someone you know may be a victim of Human Trafficking, contact the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-833-900-1010 or live chat The hotline is a confidential space to access support, services and offers other reporting options.



About the survey

From February 3 to February 4, 2020, an online survey of 1,513 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Maru Voice Canada panelists was executed by Maru/Blue. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size has an estimated margin of error (which measures sampling variability) of +/- 2.5%, 19 times out of 20. The results have been weighted by education, age, gender and region (and in Quebec, language) to match the population, according to Census data. This is to ensure the sample is representative of the entire adult population of Canada. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

About CivicAction

Complex challenges need an all-hands-on deck approach, and collective impact is what CivicAction does best. A leading not-for-profit in Canada, we have nearly two decades of experience working to boost civic engagement and build better cities by creating and implementing effective solutions to the most pressing challenges in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and beyond. To find out more visit or follow @CivicActionGTHA.

About Centennial College

Centennial College is Ontario’s first community college. It was established in 1966 and primarily serves the eastern portion of the Greater Toronto Area through five campuses and seven satellite locations. Centennial is best known for its record of exemplary teaching, innovative programming and extensive partnership building. Learn more at

For more information on the survey results or to arrange an interview, please contact: Sarah El-Bakri,, mobile 289-892-7054. Follow the “For a Friend” campaign along @Centennial_PR on twitter (#forafriend).

For more information on CivicAction or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Sarah Harris
VP, Partnerships and Engagement, CivicAction
C: 416-827-4542











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