Canada: international students falling victim to sexual exploitation

Published 05/06/2023

International students are falling victim to sexual exploitation and are being used to traffic drugs in the Greater Toronto Area, Canada, an NGO has said.

Sunder Singh is the executive director of the Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women, an organisation that supports women in the Toronto community.

She told The PIE News that Canada’s high cost of living paired with tuition fees have made female students enter the sex trade out of desperation.

The PIE has also found numerous massage parlours that are advertising services from international students in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Brampton is where we see the hub of exploitation happening,” Singh told The PIE.

“The rents are very high here. The cost of living is extremely high and the students who are coming are paying four times more in their fee expenses.

“Parents have sold their land and jewellery and their assets to send the child here to Canada with the hope that, you know, once he or she gets them permanent resident status, then the family will be called here.”

Canada has seen over 800,000 international students arrive in 2022 – an increase of almost a third in one year, according to government data.

Singh said that while the idea of bringing young students to Canada was a “wonderful idea”.

However, according to Singh, the long-term vision of the government has been lacking.

“The government could not see the problems when these young people come without parents, without family, without any adults to support them and keep them on track,” she said.

“They were sent here and they saw freedom for the first time and they were vulnerable, very easily exploited.”

“Out of desperation, the girls especially, started to enter the sex trade”

The PIE reported last week on female international students needing more support to prevent exploitation by employers.

“They desire to have some money so that they could pay rent and have decent food and have a little bit of decent living… Out of desperation, the girls especially, started to enter the sex trade,” Singh continued.

The PIE News has identified a number of massage parlours around Toronto are openly saying they use Indian students for sex work.

Four separate high street spas, published adverts on escort and classified advert websites advertising escort and erotic massage services from “Indian students”.

Singh told The PIE that in one of the Brampton hospitals, about 18 to 20 girls are going for abortions every month.

“Some of the doctors have said that this was unheard of… of course if you are working in the sex trade, many men don’t want to use protection,” she added.

Singh said it is hard to say exactly how many students are being affected, due to the fact that many do not want to come forward to speak about their experiences.

However, information about the female students comes to her and her team directly from students, community residents living and/or working in Brampton, relatives of the community whose members live in Brampton, truck drivers whose colleagues use the services given by the girls.

Last year, the centre met with approximately 80 students, all facing financial challenges and currently it sees over 12 students every week who come for food and clothing.

Sex for rent and exploitation

Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women has also become aware of landlords and employers who have exploited female students.

“A one bedroom basement apartment is $1,600. The girls cannot afford it, you know, they have to pay their fees. They have a limited income. And for them, it’s very difficult to pay,” Singh told The PIE.

“Landlords, for example, will say, ‘well, you know, you don’t have to pay one month’s rent and as long as you can sleep with me tonight’.”

Elspeth Heyworth Centre for Women currently works with local banks, who say sometimes a young female students share pass codes with boyfriends.

“So the boyfriend is maybe posing as a boyfriend, but he’s probably pimping, and the girl doesn’t even know that.

“If the money is taken out of her account without her knowledge and her account is completely wiped out, she is now completely dependent on this man,” Singh said.

Singh explained that this happened with an Indian student the centre was working with last year.

“It has happened to one of the girls here where, you know, she trusted the boy, moved in with him. He got hold of all her passwords and then completely emptied her bank account and got her pregnant.

“She had to get two abortions and he started to beat her. She had to look after his house and prepare food for him, and she became his slave until a neighbour noticed that she was now domestically abused and somebody suggested to her to call the police when she did. And that’s when, you know, we came to the rescue.”

Male students have also reportedly been targeted for exploitation, according to Singh.

“The boys, many of them who have come here, have learned truck driving, which is a nice skill to have. They get paid well. However, these young boys get exploited very easily by people,” Singh said.

She explained that the male students who have jobs working as truck drivers are being coerced into transporting drugs.

Social media

Singh told The PIE that social media is used by those who want to exploit vulnerable students.

“The youth right now, they are on social media and social media is where they become most vulnerable. And being alone in Canada, they’re seeking companionship.

“Social media is where they become most vulnerable”

“So these perpetrators are posing as boyfriends and buying expensive gifts and taking them out for dinner, etc. And then after they have won the trust of these vulnerable girls, they say, ‘okay, can you do me a favour? I need money’, suddenly.

“Then, you know, ‘this friend of mine is also in trouble, so could you please go and see him, and collect money from him?’ So when she goes there, she gets raped and then the trafficking starts from then onwards.”

Singh explained that it is very easy to blackmail Indian girls.

“Because if he says, ‘I’m going to send a video to your parents’, she will not allow that. She’d rather go through the trafficking than to have the parents know.”

Students are also often reluctant to reach out for help due to fears around their visas, making them even more vulnerable according to Singh.

The PIE contacted IRCC for comment but did not receive a response.

Universities Canada declined on the issues raised in this article and The PIE did not receive a response from the government of Ontario.

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