Back to Top

Questions My Kids Ask

On December 7, Jennifer presented at a World Renew webinar on gender-based violence. What is provided below is an excerpt from her speaking notes. You can see a recording of the webinar here

This week in Canada, we recognized the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Human trafficking is a form of gender-based violence and disproportionately affects women and girls around the world and in our own communities. I see evidence of this through the survivors Restorations supports through our Survivor-led Peer Programming and in our work to open a long-term home with supportive services for survivors. 

It was 2011 when I first started working with victims and survivors of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. 2 years later my daughter, Amy, was born.  

Today, at almost 8 years old, Amy knows I work for a charity called Restorations. She has visited what she calls “the work house” which she knows has been renovated “to help people.” She has helped me raise thousands of dollars over the years through charity events and campaigns. (A few weeks ago, she was playing an imaginative game where she was pretending to call up people and solicit donations on behalf of Restorations!) She has met a few of the survivors I work with, people she knows as my “work friends.” 

But it wasn’t until two weeks ago when Amy noticed a book I had for work, and asked me “what is human trafficking?”

I was trying to decide what statistics to share that would be most compelling.
When she asked this, I had been in the process of thinking about what I wanted to share with you about human trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence. I was trying to decide what statistics to share that would be most compelling. I was trying to figure out how to best communicate – in such a short amount of time – the intersections between gender-based violence and human trafficking in Canada today. But maybe I was trying to make an already complex issue more complicated. Perhaps it’s as simple as how I communicated it to my daughter. 
Human trafficking is slavery. 
Human trafficking is when someone – a trafficker – forces someone else to do something so the trafficker can get money.
But it’s more than just money, I told her. It’s often about power and control. 
And this word “force” is complicated too. Force can mean physically making someone do something. But it can also mean manipulating someone in tricky and sneaky ways to do something too. Manipulating means that you convince someone to do something to get your own way.

I left it at that, because I wasn’t prepared to explain to her that the majority of cases I’ve worked on involves sex trafficking. That the majority of victims I’ve worked with are Canadian females who were first exploited as teenagers, trafficked by men who posed as boyfriends. That this work is challenging because there are so many obstacles – physical, emotional, mental, economical, societal – that stand in their way as they try to escape exploitation. 

I told her that in human trafficking, lots of different people are hurt and lots of different people do the hurting, but that the majority of those hurt are women and girls. She is familiar with Indigenous justice issues, so I also told her that a lot of Indigenous women and girls are hurt by trafficking.

To prevent harm, we need to be having widespread conversations about the impacts of gender inequality

To simplify things for her, I told her that my work tries to stop human trafficking. She asked how…. And I stumbled, because in reality the majority of Restorations’ work is stepping in after exploitation has already occurred. Safe housing that offers specialized services for trafficked survivors to help them overcome trauma and violence is a significant need. So, I told her that I am part of a lot of conversations to talk about human trafficking, and talking about it – raising awareness – is helpful to preventing exploitation.

But sometimes the ways we talk about human trafficking and exploitation reinforces this as gender-based violence in not so helpful ways. 

When speaking with community members, I often hear statements like “oh, this is so important to me because I have daughters.” Conversely, I also hear statements like “I feel so passionately about this topic, even though I only have sons.” 

When I hear statements like this, it feels like the responsibility of preventing exploitation is placed primarily on women and girls. It’s similar to how we focus efforts on teaching women and girls about protecting and preventing themselves from being sexually assaulted when in fact we should be putting more emphasis on teaching men and boys not to sexually assault. The importance of talking to youth about gender equality, dignity, and respect is crucial regardless of gender. Teaching women and girls to be as safe as possible is wise. Teaching them the red flags of unsafe relationships, is important. But this only works to reduce harm. To prevent harm, we need to be having widespread conversations about the impacts of gender inequality and how to use the power of privilege to make a difference. 

“I have sons, so I know it is just as important to talk to them"

What I want to hear is someone say “I have sons, so I know it is just as important to talk to them about their role in preventing human trafficking.” 

Maybe you’re familiar with some campaigns that center victims as someone’s daughter, or sister, or friend. What I want to hear is someone say “she is someone, unique and an individual regardless of her identity as a daughter, sister, or friend.” It is important to center people as individuals, made in the image of God our creator, and not place value on who they are to others. 

In addition to having Amy, I also have a one year old, a boy, Malcolm. And while I hope for a future in which exploitation and abuse is non-existent, I know there will come a day when I will also talk to him about human trafficking, and the importance of using his gender, his power, and his privilege to elevate gender equality. It’s my hope that as we continue engaging with our families, our workplaces, and our faith communities, we might think of more ways to better engage everyone in these conversations that center survivors as unique individuals made in the image of God.

Photo provided by the author of Amy in the Restorations house.  

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

In order to steward ministry shares well, commenting isn’t available on Do Justice itself because we engage with comments and dialogue in other spaces. To comment on this post, please visit the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Facebook page (for Canada-specific articles) or the Office of Social Justice’s Facebook page. Alternatively, please email us. We want to hear from you!

Read more about our comment policy.