Covenant House Toronto launches Shoppable Girls campaign to draw attention to sex trafficking

The anti-sex trafficking campaign aims to build awareness and help prevent one of Canada's most lucrative crimes ahead of Ontario's Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

TORONTO, Feb. 18, 2020 /CNW/ – Covenant House today launched a new campaign called Shoppable Girls ( with a goal to raise awareness and start a dialogue about sex trafficking ahead of Human Trafficking Awareness Day on Feb. 22. The hope is Ontarians will be encouraged to educate themselves on the issue and ultimately be equipped to help prevent sex trafficking.

Just like sex trafficking, which can often go unnoticed if you don’t know what to look for, the Shoppable Girls campaign shows that the victims aren’t always immediately identifiable as the signs are often misunderstood.  Shoppable Girls strives to reach young people in a way that catches their eye and encourages them to dig deeper. In reaching the campaign website, they will learn about sex trafficking myths and warning signs so they can protect themselves and look out for their friends. Parents and caregivers are also a key audience for the campaign as they play a critical role in helping to keep their children safe through education and dialogue.

“One of the major misconceptions is sex trafficking doesn’t happen in Canada when in fact 93 per cent of sex trafficking victims are Canadian citizens,” said Julie Neubauer, program manager of anti-trafficking services at Covenant House. “No one chooses to be trafficked. And the truth is that it’s happening in our communities, to our children and often right in front of us. Yet many times the signs go unnoticed by those in the best position to help.”

Victims of sex trafficking are often recruited by someone they know through luring and grooming tactics that escalate over time. Being able to identify the signs of luring and grooming is vital as the more that young people and their parents or caregivers know about sex trafficking, the better equipped they are to protect themselves.

According to the Toronto Police Services, sex trafficking is a billion-dollar industry in Canada and is considered a highly lucrative commodity amongst criminal organizations.

“We see an unfortunately high number of cases where a young child’s vulnerable state was exploited and in many cases, they were approached through social media platforms. This is a domestic problem and our victims come from all walks of life and from neighbourhoods that represent all segments of the city,” said David Correa, Detective Sergeant with the Toronto Police Services’ Human Trafficking Enforcement Team. “It’s crucial that we all work together in identifying cases early as we are seeing victims as young as 13.”

Covenant House is a national leader in providing direct support to survivors of sex trafficking. Their comprehensive anti-trafficking plan includes prevention, front line services and knowledge sharing. They have supported over 200 survivors in their healing journey since launching this plan in 2016.

Canadians are also encouraged to lend their voice against sex trafficking on social by using #ShoppableGirls. For more information on how to start the conversation around sex trafficking, visit

For individuals who may be a victim of sex trafficking or know someone who is, the Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline is a confidential hotline available 24-7 at 1-833-900-1010.

Covenant House Toronto is grateful for the many partners including TAXI, Media Experts, Weber Shandwick Canada and CISION who supported in making the Shoppable Girls campaign happen. Together we are proud to lend a voice to help end sex trafficking in Canada.

About Covenant House Toronto

Covenant House helps youth ignite their potential and reclaim their lives. As Canada’s largest agency serving youth who are homeless, trafficked or at risk, they offer the widest range of 24-7 services to about 350 young people each day. As a national leader, they educate and advocate for long-term change to improve the lives of vulnerable youth. More than a place to stay, they provide life-changing care with unconditional love and respect. They meet youth’s immediate needs and then they work together to achieve their future goals. They offer housing options, health and well-being support, training and skill development, and ongoing care once youth move into the community.


  • No one chooses to be trafficked. Sex trafficking is when a person, through means of luring, coercion, trickery or manipulation is forced to sell their body to make money for other people.
  • 93% of trafficking victims in Canada are citizens, and victims are recruited as young as 13.
  • 90% of victims are female, however, young men are also targeted victims too.
  • Victims are often recruited by someone they know: males they consider to be their boyfriends or through friends, often victims themselves.
  • Sex trafficking can happen to any young person, regardless of age, culture, income, orientation, gender or neighbourhood.
  • Sex trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry—more lucrative than illegal guns or drugs smuggling, with traffickers making over $280,000 per year by controlling one victim.


Part of our journey to launching Shoppable Girls has been research and consultations with stakeholders along the way.

Prevention study with teen girls and survivors

In 2018, we conducted a national study with Ipsos Public Affairs to inform this awareness campaign and better understand the attitudes and behaviours that put teen girls at greater risk for sex trafficking. The study included both an online survey of 500 girls aged 12 to 16, and interviews with survivors of sex trafficking, their parents and anti-trafficking advocates.

The study indicates parents can play a pivotal role in educating their daughters about online luring and sex trafficking at a young age before their risk factors increase.

  • Study findings reveal that only 38 per cent of teenage girls say their parents are “very aware” of their social media activity. It also shows that as girls age and their social media usage increases, they become even less likely to talk to their parents about challenges they are experiencing, both on and offline, thereby increasing their risk factors.
  • While girls indicate some familiarity with the term “sex trafficking”, few are very familiar with it and there is a significant gap between 12 and 16 year olds. The good news is that parents who engage in open dialogue with their daughters at a younger age help build trust and impart a strong perception of risk and knowledge of what to do in challenging situations.
  • The findings from sex trafficking survivors and advocates also demonstrate the importance of education around sex trafficking and communication with parents. Many survivors lacked a big picture understanding of what was happening to them and the right vocabulary to describe it to others. These factors, combined with not knowing where to turn to for help, were key barriers to leaving their situations.

For more information on this study, visit:

Focus groups with teen girls and moms

Once the initial Shoppable Girls campaign concept was developed, we conducted focus groups with teen girls and moms of teen girls to gauge reactions, interest and engagement.

  • The teen girls found the campaign eye-opening and relatable. They liked that it brings awareness to the issue and most said they would share with friends as they want to prevent it from happening to themselves and their friends. The girls emphasized the importance of creating social media ads that are interesting and compelling enough to grab their attention and make them want to click through to learn more. These insights helped shaped the creative direction of the campaign.
  • Moms in the focus group said the campaign is a ‘wake-up’ call for themselves and their daughters. They said they can be naïve when it comes to their daughters’ behaviours and that they need to pay attention to potential signs so that they can protect their daughters. They felt this campaign can be used as a tool for the discussion, particularly for those who may feel uncomfortable approaching their kids with the subject matter.

Consultations with survivors

To further develop the campaign elements, we consulted with survivors of sex trafficking.  They felt the campaign was ‘timely’, ‘creative’ and ‘will catch people’s attention’. They felt that the models will help teens connect with the campaign and that sex trafficking can happen to anyone. They mentioned how important it is for parents to realize this can happen to their daughters and that their daughters are not too young to hear about this issue.

Research on the barriers to exiting sex trafficking

To date, very little work has been done to document the process victims must undergo in order to successfully escape from sex trafficking or to determine their specific needs while attempting to do so.

Covenant House Toronto, in collaboration with co-researcher Sue McIntyre, has completed one of the largest research studies on sex trafficking produced in Canada to-date. The research featured interviews with 200 stakeholders (including 50 survivors) from eight cities: St. John’s, Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

This study provides a comprehensive review of the process that victims must embark on when exiting situations of sex trafficking, highlighting their multiple needs and the barriers they face.

The impetus behind this study was to better understand the complex reasons why victims of sex trafficking remain trapped within the sex industry and why so many are likely to return after exiting.

How the study informed the Shoppable Girls campaign

The findings from this study were critical to our Shoppable Girls campaign as we learned just how hard it is for victims to exit/escape a trafficking situation after becoming entrenched, which speaks to the importance of awareness and prevention.

In addition to building awareness, encouraging conversation and helping to prevent sex trafficking in Canada, we are attempting to create an understanding of the complex reasons why victims of sex trafficking remain trapped within the sex industry and why so many are likely to return after exiting.

Why don’t victims just leave?

We feel that it is very important for people to understand that no one chooses to be trafficked and that there are interconnected barriers that impact a victim’s ability to exit sex trafficking, which include, among others:

  • Total reliance on the trafficker
  • Previous and current trauma
  • Fear
  • Stigma and discrimination
  • Hopelessness
  • Lack of support
  • Lack of trust
  • Not seeing themselves as a victim
  • Isolation

There are many other barriers to exiting. To access the full report, visit:

SOURCE Covenant House Toronto