Vivienne Chin

ICCLR recently published a report on a qualitative review of the assistance and support services available to survivors of human trafficking in British Columbia and Alberta.¹ This study was conducted with the financial support of the Office of Crime Reduction and Gang Outreach, Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, Province of British Columbia.

Previous research has revealed a lot about the needs of victims and survivors of human trafficking and their difficulty in accessing relevant services. Their needs are multiple and complex, but, by now, they are well known. However, much less is known about the services provided, the difficulties encountered in delivering them and the victims’ experience of accessing and receiving them.

The study identifies several persistent obstacles to access to support and assistance by victims of trafficking, especially victims of labour trafficking. Although there are a significant number of services for victims and survivors of sexual exploitation and human trafficking in both BC and Alberta, it is clear from the feedback provided by stakeholders that more can be done to streamline service provision across the entire continuum of care. Service providers lamented that there is a significant and ever-widening gap in their ability to fully meet the unique and complex needs of human trafficking victims due to a perpetual lack of adequate funding and resources. The trauma inflicted upon victims of human trafficking before, during, and after their exploitation requires years of specialized recovery support. However, stakeholders pointed out that most programs and initiatives lack the funding to provide service long enough for most victims to heal. This lack of funding, coupled with barriers in the form of program eligibility and lengthy waitlists, continues to frustrate service providers who work to meet the needs of victims and survivors of human trafficking.

Survivors who participated in this study echoed similar sentiments and pointed out that victims face additional challenges once they engage with services. Several survivors stated that, more often than not, they did not truly feel ‘heard’ by professionals trying to assist and therefore, many of the services and supports available to survivors appear to be prescriptive rather than victim-centred or victim-led. The findings suggest a lack of specialized training on trauma and stigma informed and victim-centred approaches across the range of service providers. Participants in the study also pointed to a lack of collaboration among service providers as a barrier to developing a continuum of care that has streamlined referral pathways. They also identified pervasive difficulties in building effective relationships between service providers and law enforcement.

The study reiterates what several other similar studies have concluded: governments, advocacy groups, and community agencies need to work collaboratively to close ongoing gaps in service provision, share resources to increase capacity across all sectors, further develop and implement trauma-informed and survivor-informed service approaches among client-facing workers, and work towards the shared vision of helping victims and survivors of human trafficking lead healthy lives free from exploitation.

¹ Dandurand, Y., Plecas, D., Winterdyk, J., and Chin, V. (2023). Assistance and Support Services for Survivors of Human Trafficking: A Qualitative Study. Vancouver: ICCLR. qualitative-study/ A separate report on existing services in Alberta, by John Winterdyk and Crystal Hincks, is also available at: trafficking-in-alberta/

Photo by Fernando Rodrigues on Unsplash.

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