Conflation & misinformation

Information conflating experiences may appear in media, research/statistics, political speeches, and reports, among other outlets. Conflated information informs policy, practices, and systems. Conflations and misinformation make it more difficult for service providers to understand situations and provide effective support. Unfortunately, the conflation of this information can be used by governments to make decisions that are harmful to those that they purport to protect, like the PCEPA discussed in Module 1.

Challenges for youth seeking support

Conflations and misinformation also make it difficult for youth to assess and understand their own circumstances. This is not to say youth do not understand their circumstances but, for example, when words (ex. sex work, sexual exploitation, and trafficking) are used interchangeably, it creates confusion for anyone trying to discern what their own experience is.

Youth who experience exploitation require services and connections with service providers that are intentionally prepared to provide clear avenues for support in their unique circumstances. As such, when accessing support, conflations and misinformation can create challenges as:

  • youth may not use the words ‘trafficking’ or ‘exploitation’;
  • youth may not be familiar with the concepts of trafficking or exploitation whatsoever;
  • youth may not identify as someone who has experienced exploitation and/or feel the terms trafficking or exploitation does not describe their experience
  • youth may not know their rights in relation to their experience

Engaging with information

Service providers need to be able to critically engage with information in order to effectively assess and respond to circumstances, to provide support, to build awareness, and to provide information to their clients. Below, we introduce a statement and highlight potential concerns. In the following activity, we will offer guiding questions for reflecting and assessing information.

Example: conflations & critical reading

“The RCMP estimates traffickers in Canada can receive an average annual financial gain of $280,000 for every woman or girl they have trafficked. Trafficked women and girls are often forced to perform sex acts 365 days per year and are required to hand over all or most of the money to their traffickers.”

Canadian Women’s Foundation, 2014

Potential concerns in Example

This list of potential concerns is not exhaustive and is only to provide an example of how we engage in critical reading practices

  • The RCMP are presented as the authority on this information, but as discussed in Module 1, we are aware that the legal definition of trafficking includes persons who engage in sex work. The conflation of experience make it difficult to assess this information for validity.
    • a number of factors including distrust/fear of police prevent youth who are experiencing exploitation from reporting – therefore all statistics from police are impacted by this reality
  • The Canadian Women’s Foundation provided this quote. They utilize the phrase “trafficking” without providing a stance on the mainstream definition, which includes sex work.
  • The focus on women and girls reinforces the idea that they are “vulnerable” without addressing root causes of why (ex. gender inequity)
    • Trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit persons, although also exposed to gender-based violence and exploitation, become invisible
    • Boys and men, although also exposed to exploitation, become invisible
  • Trafficking is discussed in terms of “sex acts” – this overlooks trafficking for the purpose of labour exploitation, a common form of exploitation which lacks any official reports in Canada
    • Phrases like “365 days a year” and “all or most of the money,” create an image of the “exploited person” that may deter persons who experience exploitation in less clear or quantifiable ways from identifying as experiencing exploitation.
  • “Traffickers” in this example is a vague group who gains large sums of money from very clear acts of exploitation. In reality, people who exploit others for their personal benefit are diverse, the reasons they exploit are diverse (i.e. not always for money), and the ways they exploit may be very unclear. The various stages of exploitation mean different parties can be involved and they do not necessarily benefit in the same ways. It is important to understand the complexity of people who exploit others in order to recognize exploitation and to address root causes of exploitation.

It is important that we are always considering the different angles and perspectives when we engage with information. The key questions you can ask yourself when reading information is whose story is being told here and whose story is missing. Asking ourselves these questions can immediately highlight the potential gaps in the information we are engaging with.

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