By Colleen Isherwood
TORONTO – Accor’s seminar on Human Trafficking, held Jan. 16 at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel, emphasized the vital role hotels have to play in curbing this problem. After all, hotels are often where it all takes place.
The half-day Accor event attracted 150 participants. Proceeds from the event went to support Covenant House. Community partners included Hotelier Magaine, Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit, Covenant House, The Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking and the Greater Toronto Hotel Association.
“As a hospitality leader, we have the ability to use our influence to bring our industry together,” said Marina Elsener, director, Sustainable Development & Communications, North & Central America, Accor, who welcomed the delegates. “Human trafficking is an issue that crosses brands, and by coming together as an industry and with subject matter experts, we can strengthen our efforts to take action. It will take all of us to end human trafficking.”
Heather McCrory, now CEO of Accor North and Central America, was on hand to introduce the topic. She said she was pleased to be back in her old hotel, and thrilled that they are using the Accor program to deal with this tough, but necessary subject. She presented some impressive figures: human trafficking has an estimated 40.3 billion victims globally; sex trafficking, forced labour and domestic servitude account for $150 billion per year worldwide, $99 billion of that for sex traffickers. And 75 per cent used hotels for human trafficking.
Detective constable Andy Medeiros of Toronto Police Service Sex Crimes Unit called human trafficking a global epidemic, adding that the police services mandate was to investigate human trafficking and focus on people under 18.
Tactics used by human traffickers are violence including sexual assault or gang rape, confinement for long periods of time, isolation from family and friends, deception and false promises, withholding documents such as passports, I.D. and credit cards, and making victims dependent on drugs, Medeiros said.
But sometimes the initial tactic is romance and friendship. A perpetrator will take advantage of vulnerability and low self esteem, get the person involved in a relationship and then convince them to “do it for us.”
“The myth is that the victims are from overseas,” Medeiros said. “But they’re high school students, young adults, young women. It’s a home-grown problem, mainly with females ages 12 to 22 — the average age [for introduction to human trafficking] is 14. One girl can make [the trafficker] up to $900 in cash money, or $280,000 a year.”
It happens in hotels, particularly those along the 401 corridor. “They like to move the victims from place to place frequently. They like to keep these women confused.”
Rhonelle Bruder, internationally recognized speaker, activist, educator and social entrepreneur, was once one of the victims. She shared with the audience her experience as both a victim and a survivor of human trafficking. An experience that began after she ran away from home at age 16, because of a troubled childhood that included bullying and discrimination.
She ended up homeless and was subsequently lured into the sex industry by traffickers who exploited her vulnerabilities of needing her basic needs met. During her exploitation, she endured psychological and emotional abuse from her trafficker, living in constant fear – “I didn’t realize that a trauma bond had occurred. He was Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and I never knew which person I was going to get”.
She managed to escape a few months later but described the struggles she endured trying to rebuild her life and credited the birth of her daughter at age 19 as the catalyst to change her life. “I went back to school and got my G.E.D. then went on to earn both a Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Health Informatics from The University of Victoria. Incredible grateful for the success she has had, Rhonelle points out that many girls are not so fortunate. “The reality is I am one of the lucky ones. I know many girls who are still in the life.”
Rhonelle recommended that delegates support organizations that help victims and survivors, and share the information they have learned today in their communities. Educating young people in their lives about the dangers of trafficking. “Share the knowledge you have, as knowledge is power.”