I wish I could describe Karly Church’s story as a victim of human trafficking as unique. Her story is strong, powerful, heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, but unfortunately one thing her story isn’t is— unique. Karly is an overcomer of sex trafficking located in Ontario, Canada. This crime isn’t uncommon, it happens to individuals all over the world. According to globalslaveryindex.org, in the year 2016, 17,000 residents of Canada were suffering from modern day slavery, also known as human trafficking.
Karly Church was in her early 20s when she was being trafficked. She was living on the streets and was struggling when her trafficker found her. Runaway teenagers are one of the groups of individuals who are more susceptible to human trafficking. When referring to pimps or to traffickers, Karly stated, “He is looking for somebody who maybe is being bullied in school, he is looking for somebody who maybe doesn’t have that brand name clothing or brand new iPhone.” Traffickers find people who are in need, or who are most vulnerable, and they provide them with what they need making these victims feel as though they are a priority. Her trafficker found her during a time in her life in which she felt vulnerable, he made her feel safe. He gave her a place to say, he supplied her with drugs when she was battling with addiction, he gave her food and most importantly, he gave her reassurance.
Traffickers essentially brainwash their victims into staying with them. They convince them that they will take care of them and give them everything they need, convincing them that there is no reason to leave. On the other hand, in some cases traffickers use violence to convince their victims to stay. They threaten to hurt them even more or even kill them if they ever leave. There are times where they threaten to harm their families as well, convincing the victim even more that they need to stay.
Karly’s trafficker would tell her that he was proud of her, something that she didn’t often hear from her parents growing up. Hearing this gave Karly a sense of reassurance and validation. She wanted to hear it over and over again.
This part of her story is similar to those of other victims, they stay with their traffickers for fear that they won’t be able to survive on their own. Karly stayed with her trafficker having this fear that if she were to leave, she may end up somewhere so much worse. She feared she wouldn’t know where she would be getting her next meal from, her drugs from, she feared that if she ended up somewhere else, the people she was with may be more violent than the last.
Carly works for Victim Services of Durham Region. She connected with Detective Dave Davies and the two of them have teamed up to help other victims of sex trafficking. Police and detectives in Canada pose as potential clients for these victims in order to find out more information on their case, and in order to try to help them. This is exactly what happened with Karly when she was rescued. She now goes with the police when they are trying to help victims of sex trafficking in order to assure them that they can talk to her if they are not comfortable talking with the police. She assures them that everything is completely confidential, and that she is just trying to help them.
Karly also goes to schools in her community to help raise awareness on this horrible crime, and to thoroughly explain the importance of consent. “You can teach kids at a young age about consent that has nothing to do with sex,” she said. “You can take a four-year-old and give them a hula hoop and say ‘who would you let in your hula hoop? Why would you let them in your hula hoop? If you don’t want someone in your hula hoop anymore, how do you ask them to leave?’”. She finds it important to not only educate older kids on the topic, but to also educate younger kids just in ways that they are able to understand at such a young age. She finds it teaches them confidence and self-worth.
She has found that after speaking to grade nine classes at these schools, at least one person comes up to her addressing some concern whether it be regarding sexual violence, that they themselves are being trafficked, someone they know is or they are in the beginning stages of being trafficked. “It is incredible how education is power,” she said. “I already see a shift in some of the people we work with.”
“When I grew up, I knew nothing about human trafficking,” she said. “When I was being trafficked, I actually had no idea that it was happening to me. I didn’t think that that’s what human trafficking was, so I’m a big believer that if someone came into my high school, and talked to me about human trafficking or spoke to me about the warning signs or talked to me about what a healthy relationship was...I truly believe that if somebody did that, then maybe I would have been able to identify those red flags before it was too late for me.” This is why we need to educate ourselves and educate others about this quickly spreading yet very unknown crime, to potentially help keep our loved ones and younger individuals safe and allow them to understand their self-worth before their lives and their freedom ends up in the wrong hands.