Vulnerability: A Photo Essay

by Michelle Brock on April 28th, 2011

I love photography. For a while I have wanted to start doing photo essays here at HFTS with themes that relate to sex trafficking.  I did one with royalty free images a while back, but from now on want to use photos from you instead.

So I put a call out for my first real photo essay, entitled “Vulnerability.”  Here are some of the pictures that were sent in.  They range from self-explanatory to abstract, from orphans in Africa to children in North America, from photo shoots to spontaneous snap shots.  All represent vulnerability.  And vulnerability is a component of exploitation.


~Submitted by Jenn Arnold


~Submitted by Beth Fisher

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~Submitted by Andrew Finlay


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~Submitted by Andrew Finlay


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~Submitted by Christy McClelland



~Submitted by Roxanne Krystalli

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~Submitted by Danika Teeple


Optimized apart house

~Submitted by Kaja Tirrul

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~Submitted by Kaja Tirrul

Big thanks to Jenn Arnold, Beth Fisher, Andrew Finlay, Christy McClelland, Roxanne Krystalli, Danika Teeple, and Kaja Tirrul for your submissions!  For those of you who wish to make a submission for the next one, contact me here and I will keep you posted on upcoming themes.

Did any of these photos stand out to you?  Why?  Would love to hear your comments below.

Michelle Brock


Earthquakes & Child Trafficking: Japan vs. Haiti

by Michelle Brock on April 25th, 2011

haiti earthquake1

Photo Source: Gothamist

On the morning of January 12, 2010, I made myself a cup of tea and sat at my computer to check on world news.  Immediately I was bombarded with articles, videos, and images of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti and reduced much of the country to rubble.  While scrolling through the information in horror, I suddenly remembered that my dad was supposed to be there on a work trip.

With a lump in my throat I called my mom, only to find out that he had been scheduled to leave for Haiti the following day and therefore missed the earthquake by 24 hours. This relief was felt by another friend of mine, whose dad was on his way to Haiti but ended up stranded en route in Florida.  Sadly my in-laws know a man whose mother had just landed in Port-au-Prince to do volunteer work and was killed that day.

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Photo Source:

Fast forward one year. I woke up on the morning of the Japan earthquake to an email from my mom asking me if I was on high ground.  Early reports had said that the tsunami was expected to affect Vancouver Island, were I was living, though in the end it only raised the water level by a few centimetres in Tofino.  Relief again.

But relief is the furthest thing from what most people experience in disaster zones, and for many survivors the real turmoil begins after the actual event itself.  When the 2004 tsunami hit Southeast Asia, many children were left orphaned and countries like Australia barred registered pedophiles from travelling to the disaster-affected regions.  In places where children are already being exploited, vulnerability is increased drastically when a natural disaster strikes.

Haiti is no different. Already one of the poorest nations in the world, the children were extremely susceptible to exploitation and human trafficking.  Following last year’s earthquake reports started coming out that children were going missing from hospitals and camps, many of them being sold across the border to the Dominican Republic.

In light of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, I have been wondering what differences exist between wealthy and impoverished countries in terms of trafficking levels after natural disasters. It’s a bit too early to tell with Japan, but here is why I think Haiti is more vulnerable to exploitation. These are my opinions, so I would love to hear what those of you who know more about these countries have to say.

  • In Haiti, children under the age of 15 make up 45% of the population.  Before the earthquake, NGOs estimated that about 10,000 of these kids were living on the streets of Port-au-Prince.   Japan on the other hand made headlines in 2007 for child numbers being at a record low, at 13.6% of the population.  Perhaps if there are less children to exploit and more adults in proportion to protect them, trafficking levels will not be as high.
  • Haiti’s earthquake death toll was in the hundreds of thousands, while Japan’s is in the tens of thousands.  Haiti already had an estimated 200,000 orphans before the earthquake, let alone after it as many lost their parents.  A lower death toll means that less children have been orphaned in Japan.
  • Child exploitation has been a problem in Haiti for a long time and is often seen as normal.  Before the earthquake, more than 300,000 children were already in forced labor in Haiti.  The increased vulnerability of Haitian children after the earthquake coupled with the permeating attitude that children can be used and abused makes it easier to exploit and traffic them.
  • Japan has the best disaster-preparedness infrastructure in the world, and despite the destruction it has a strong enough economy to bounce back much faster than Haiti can.  Therefore the window of opportunity for traffickers and pedophiles is much smaller in Japan than it is in Haiti.
  • Haiti borders the Dominican Republic, making human trafficking along the border relatively easy.  Japan is an island, making international trafficking more complicated.

haiti kids1What do you think? Do you agree or disagree with any of these propositions?  How can we prevent pedophiles from travelling to countries after disasters?  How can we reduce incentive for traffickers who want to use earthquakes as opportunities to destroy lives?  Would love to hear your thoughts below.

Michelle Brock





Ashton Kutcher & Demi Moore Talk About Child Sex Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on April 23rd, 2011

Love these guys.  Check out the DNA Foundation to see all that Demi and Ashton are doing to end child sex slavery.

Michelle Brock


Suitable Sentence? South Dakota Man Gets Life for Sex Trafficking

by Michelle Brock on April 18th, 2011

BrandonThompsonMaking 15 to 17 year-olds wear loads of make-up and lie about their age on internet sex ads.  Check. “Trying out” his girls before sending them out to clients and flashing a handgun if they resisted. Check. Asking girls to recruit other girls into the prostitution ring.  Check. Trying to murder a federal witness.  Check.

Brandon Thompson of Tea City, South Dakota, just received a life sentence for sex trafficking.  Though stating “I’m okay” after hearing the verdict, Thompson was surprised that he would get such a harsh sentence.

As the judge aptly pointed out, the 10 under aged victims received their own “life sentences.”  They will have to deal with the trauma that happened to them at the hands of Thompson for the rest of their lives.  To have the man that sold their bodies back in society after a few years in jail would be a slap in the face.

judge schreierFortunately this is not the case. There is no parole in the federal prison system. In an attempt to woo the judge, Thompson claimed that he wanted to start a nonprofit group to help victims of sex trafficking and help troubled teens. Judge Shcreier did not fall for this however, saying that in her 12 years as a judge she had never seen a case so disturbing.

One of the victims had a baby with Thompson, and through her tears said this:

“I have a lot to look forward to in my life, but I’m not looking forward to telling my son that his father is a sick, disgusting man who trafficked in women.”

I am grateful that for once a judge was willing to look at the horrifying facts and make a decision accordingly.  This is refreshing in light of decisions like the some in Canada, with traffickers like Imani Nakpangi receiving 5 years and Jacques Leonard-St. Vil getting a two-for-one credit for pretrial custody, allowing him to spend only one day in jail upon conviction.  A poor precedent has been set in our country.

questionDo you think that verdicts like this will deter traffickers?  Do you think Thompson received a fair sentence?  If not, what would you do differently?

I personally am of the opinion that we need to make sexual exploitation less profitable for traffickers.  Money makes the business worth it.  If you’re a dude and you think the girls advertised on the internet are pleased as punch to serve your sexual urges, I would recommend listening to the stories of some victims.  Thanks to Judge Schreier, the ones exploited by Thompson can now start rebuilding their lives.

Here are some news articles on the Thompson story:

Michelle Brock


Real Men Don’t Buy Girls

by Michelle Brock on April 15th, 2011

Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore just launched these videos to raise awareness about trafficking. They humorously address manhood while sending a very serious message.  Check out the Demi & Ashton Foundation to see what this cool couple is doing to fight sexual exploitation!

Do you think videos like this are effective?  Rob Morris from Love 146 talks more about what it means to be a real man.

Michelle Brock



Dear Rob Ford – My Letter to the Mayor of Toronto

by Michelle Brock on April 11th, 2011

rsz canadapost1Last week I wrote a post about Toronto councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal to create a red light district on Toronto Island. You can read it here. As promised, here is my letter to the Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, regarding Mammoliti’s proposal.

*Update: Mayor Ford’s response below!*

Dear Mayor Rob Ford,

My name is Michelle Brock and I am a documentary film maker and writer at, a blog about sex trafficking. I am also an Ontario resident. I recently had several concerned readers contact me in regard to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal of having a red light district on Toronto Island. From what I understand, Mammoliti is currently preparing a report on the matter, which he plans to bring to your attention sometime this spring.

Though regulating brothels would provide the city with some tax revenue, I would like to present you with the negative consequences of a regulated, legal prostitution industry. The proposed location adds its own set of repercussions.

Amsterdam is often heralded as an example of how a government can regulate the prostitution industry. Though the Amsterdam government had thought legalization and regulation would make organized crime easier to control and women safer within the industry, the opposite has proven true.

In 2003, a mere 3 years after the brothel ban was lifted, the City Council realized their actions had invited Nigerian and Estonian criminal groups into the area. Because legalization increased demand for paid sex and men from all over the world flocked to the region, human traffickers saw an opportunity to fill the supply side. Trafficking comes in threes – people, drugs, and guns – and the mayor of Amsterdam has called their decision to legalize an abysmal failure. The city is now back tracking by shutting down big sections of the red light district.

Project SECLUSION in Canada has found human trafficking suspects to be linked to other organized criminal activites such as conspiracy to commit murder, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, and organized prostitution, in Canada or abroad. We do not want more of these people flocking to Toronto.

Once demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Illegal brothels, massage parlours, and strip clubs would spring up in other parts of Toronto as well. Following legalization in Victoria, Australia, illegal establishments quickly outnumbered legal ones at a rate of three and four to one. Escort services out of private residences and hotels are becoming the new mode of prostitution, which is almost impossible to regulate.

I understand that if Justice Himel’s ruling to strike down prostitution laws stands up to the appeal, you will be in the difficult position of having to make decisions about regulating such an industry in Toronto. To avoid this position, I would encourage you to speak up against the legalization movement. If the ruling does stand up however, I strongly advise you, on behalf of the anti-trafficking community, not to accept Mammoliti’s proposal of creating a red light district on Toronto Island. Though legalized prostitution would itself increase demand for paid sex, a sex island would increase it even more dramatically due to its novelty. Because demand for paid sex is an opportunity for human traffickers and pimps to provide supply, a red light district to increase tax revenue is not a wise move.

In contrast to legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, Sweden’s approach has significantly cut down human trafficking levels. It has criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it. Women are offered exit programs. This has decreased demand for paid sex, reducing monetary incentives for traffickers to set up shop. Because its success has encouraged other countries to adopt it, this approach is now known as the “Nordic Model.” This is the direction we should be headed.

The costs outweigh the benefits when a regulated red light district becomes a tourist attraction. Tax revenue is not worth it in the long run when organized crime sees an opportunity to make money too.

I hope this gives you some points to think about regarding Mammoliti’s proposal. Thank you for your service and dedication to Toronto. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want more information!

Michelle Brock

***UPDATE: Response from Mayor Rob Ford***

Dear Michelle,  

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about a Toronto Island red light district.

Councillor Mammoliti has said publicly he believes that if there were to be a “red light district” established in the City of Toronto, it should be on Toronto Island. This is an issue the Councillor has brought up in the past, and the idea is his own. I personally do not support the idea of brothels or a red light district being built on Toronto Island.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your comments and concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time.

Yours truly,  Mayor Rob Ford, City of Toronto

This is GREAT news!  Thank you Mayor Ford for responding so quickly.  We are delighted to hear that you do not support Mammoliti’s proposal.

To HFTS readers, you can still write a letter to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to inform him of the dark side of a ‘regulated’ red light district on Toronto Island.  His contact information can be found here.

Michelle Brock


Love 146 Tread on Trafficking Promo Video

by Michelle Brock on April 5th, 2011

PGA Golfer Ben Crane shows us some training techniques as he prepares for Tread on Trafficking.

Fine out more here!

Michelle Brock


Project SECLUSION: Summary of Findings

by Michelle Brock on April 3rd, 2011

Sad Girl1Several months ago I received a report from the Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre known as Project SECLUSION.  It is a national overview of trafficking operations in Canada and addresses organized crime involvement, transnational associations, source countries, and challenges faced by law enforcement.  It is not intended to be a guide on how to investigate human trafficking but serves as a baseline tool in enforcement efforts.  Here are some key findings:

  • Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation has been mostly associated with organized prostitution occurring discreetly behind fronts, like escort agencies and residential brothels.  These are extremely difficult for law enforcement to detect without proactive investigations.
  • Human trafficking suspects usually share similar ethnicity with their associates and have ethnic ties to source countries of their migrant workers.
  • Many human trafficking suspects have been linked to other organized criminal activities, such as conspiracy to commit murder, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, and organized prostitution, in Canada or abroad.
  • Organized crime networks with Eastern European links have been involved in the organized entry of women from former Soviet States into Canada for employment in escort services in the Greater Toronto Area and possibly in massage and escort services in the Montreal area.  These groups have demonstrated transnational capabilities and significant associations with convicted human traffickers in the Czech Republic, Germany, Belarus, and Israel.
  • Domestic human trafficking victims have mostly been recruited through the internet or by an acquaintance.  The victims were groomed, manipulated, and coerced to enter the sex trade.
  • Some victims of domestic human trafficking have been underage girls exploited through prostitution in exotic dance clubs and/or escort services. Control tactics employed by traffickers to retain victims in exploitative situations include social isolation, forcible confinement, withholding identification documents, imposing strict rules, limitation of movement, as well as threats and violence.
  • African nationals who were identified as victims of human trafficking were trafficked for sexual exploitation outside of and before arriving to Canada.

You can download the entire PDF report here:  SECLUSION_Unclassified_EN Final version

I am also currently reading another article that specifically focuses on methodology of trafficking research and what approaches Canada must take when measuring this clandestine activity.  This will be particulatly helpful for those of you getting into trafficking research.  Summary of that coming soon!

Michelle Brock


Meet an Abolitionist: William Wilberforce

by Michelle Brock on April 1st, 2011

William Wilberforce 238x300Often my inspiration comes from historical figures who have resisted the status quo and made change happen. William Wilberforce, who played a key role in abolishing the trans-Atlantic slave trade, is one of those heroes.

Born in 1759, Wilberforce was raised in an era where European slave traders were making regular trips to the West coast of Africa and shipping thousands of slaves to the Caribbean islands, America, and Europe.  The flow of people, raw goods, and manufactured product was also known as the triangular trade, and even today you can see the descendants of African slaves inhabiting many Caribbean islands.

triangular slave 300x266Wilberforce headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for 26 years, which resulted in the Slave Trade Act of 1807.  He worked tirelessly toward this goal despite his failing health, giving us no excuse to stand by without fighting for justice.

“If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large.” -William Wilberforce

Here is a trailer for Amazing Grace, a movie about the abolition of the British slave trade.  It is a good reminder to us that though slavery has some unique characteristics in the modern-day, many lessons can be learned from Wilberforce and his group of dedicated abolitionists.

Michelle Brock