Sex Trafficking in Canada’s North

By: Dhivya Shastri, YWCA of Canada

Working in Canada’s Arctic territory of Nunavut has shown me a side of my own country that I never really knew existed. I am not Inuit, but working here gives me the greatest gift I can receive: a perspective.

The standard of living across Canada is drastically different from region to region. One issue that I am increasingly learning more about is sex trafficking in Nunavut. I first came to Nunavut six years ago to work. Walls of secrecy have been constructed around the problem of sex trafficking in Nunavut, and there are numerous reasons for that stemming from shame to blatant ignorance.

Sex trafficking is happening in Canada. In Nunavut, Inuit girls and young women are usually the victims. In a study conducted by the Canadian Women’s Foundation (2014), it was found that the five most cited risk factors associated with human trafficking were:

  • Being female.
  • Being poor.
  • A history of violence and/or neglect.
  • A history of child sexual abuse.
  • A low level of education.

(p. 28)

Colonization brought with it violence, sexual abuse, cultural disruption and poverty. The Inuit community continues to suffer multiple forms of trauma associated with this brutal time in their history. Nunavut’s social and political history situates the territory as a prime site to lure young women and girls into sex trafficking and other forms of forced prostitution.

In a study by Pauktuutit, it showed that the average age of a female sex trafficking survivor in Canada’s Northern Territories was 9.7 years while the age of the violator was 29 years (Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, 1991, p. 5). Helen Roos, an independent consultant in Iqaluit explained that within the sex trade, “the demand is seeking younger and younger girls—that’s an extreme sexual fetish” (Troian, 2014). Nunavut has a very young population; this coupled with poverty has created an atmosphere where families themselves are sexually exploiting young girls who are related to them.

An Ottawa-based Inuit addictions centre interviewed clients, who described their Nunavut communities as “war zones” (Browne, 2014). Young Inuit women journey to densely populated cities in southern provinces to escape these dire familial, social and economic situations in Nunavut; where they are forced into prostitution. Online predators often prey on the desires of young women who want to “escape” (Brown, 2014). In many cases, young women willingly head down south after being promised to be cared for by a “loving” partner found on a dating site.

Authorities and organizations struggle to provide adequate support in Nunavut as there is a lack of young women and girls support services available in the community. Even worse, survivors of this type of abuse fear the stigma and consequences that come with reporting it. Thus, the cycle sustains itself controlled by fear, desperation and poor social and economic narratives for young women and girls. Roos powerfully framed the issue when she said in an interview with VICE: “If Nunavut has become a Vietnam or Thailand or Cambodia because people’s desperation is so great that they feel that their only remedy is letting their child go with a 30-year-old man… then there are some fundamental questions here for Canada” (Browne, 2014).

This is the reality for young women and girls in communities throughout Nunavut; in fact, this is a shared reality in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities across Canada. The trafficking of children and young women is reflective of the larger social and economic problems present in Nunavut. As long as there is poverty, cultural and social disruption and weak community support for mental health issues, trafficking will continue to be a problem here.

Check out the following resources below for more information on human trafficking in Nunavut and Canada.

Feel free to post your knowledge, stories and other comments about human trafficking in the comment section below.

Get inspired by the “End Trafficking Toolkit” provided by UNICEF USA to gather ideas for local campaigning against child trafficking:

Human Trafficking in Canada- Resources:

A FemNorthNet Fact Sheet: Sexual and Reproductive Justice in the North

Nunavut Sexual Health Framework for Action 2012-2017

Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls: Literature Reviews and Key Informant Interviews

Strategic Actions for the Prevention of Human Trafficking of Inuit Girls and Women in Canada: Human Trafficking Workshop Summary


Browne, R. (2014). Inuit Women Are Being Trafficked Through Dating Sites | VICE | Canada. VICE. Retrieved 28 February 2016, from

Canadian Women’s Foundation. (2014). “NO MORE” Ending Sex-Trafficking In Canada Report of the National Task Force on Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls in Canada. Toronto: Canadian Women’s Foundation. Retrieved from

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. (2013). Inuit Vulnerabilities to Human Trafficking. Ottawa: Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. Retrieved from

Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada. No More Secrets. Ottawa. 1991. Pg. 5.

Troian, M. (2014). The Indigenous Girls Being Pushed into Canada’s Sex Trade Are Getting Younger and Younger | VICE | Canada. VICE. Retrieved 28 February 2016, from

National Forum on Human Trafficking – Summary Report, 2014. (2014). Retrieved from

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