Human trafficking is a crime that many Canadians would categorize under foreign issues—something far from a homeland concern. The honoured guests at the second annual Fashions for Passions charity gala think differently, as they shared with attendees gathered at Toronto’s Liberty Grand: human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation is very much a local reality—one in dire need of public attention.
“Human Trafficking is a global issue, and it happens in our own backyard,” affirms Timea Nagy. “Unfortunately, it affects everyone. It is a ghost crime, it’s hard to see, but it exists.”
And Nagy is the hard living proof. Born in Hungry, a newspaper ad claiming to seek potential female hires brought her to Toronto in 1998, where she was taken from the airport and forced to become a sex worker, until her eventual escape some months later.
Having survived through these horrors, Nagy has dedicated her life to aiding and advocating on behalf of human trafficking victims, as well as raising awareness around the issue, through her organization, Walk with Me. And the statistics she comes armed with are alarming: “87% of our victims are Canadian girls between the age of 12-21 years of age, from all walks of life.”
With Federal Bill C-36—the government’s proposed prostitution legislation targeting exploitation of sex workers—a hot-button issue on The Hill as it stands in review before the Senate, the need to increase public awareness around the trafficking of women and girls into the sex trade is pressing. “Unfortunately, there is a lot more work to be done,” says Nagy, who relayed her experience of being trafficked into prostitution to The House of Commons during the justice committee meetings on the bill back in July.
Canadian actresses, Hélène Joy and Georgina Reilly, the evening’s hosts, agree that raising awareness is critical. “I think most definitely people in Canada generally feel that trafficking is a problem that occurs in other countries—in poor, less developed countries—and if it exists in Canada, it certainly doesn’t exist among ‘Canadians.’ We know that none of this is true, and it is important that people be made aware in order for this to change,” says Joy. Reilly—Joy’s co-star on CBC’s Murdoch Mysteries—reiterates the importance of closing the knowledge gap to encourage public action. “Sometimes people become immune to shocking stats, either because they’re stated too often or because it is a hard pill to swallow,” she suggests. “What I loved about Fashions For Passions is that it is a positive, happy evening focusing on the good people in the world, and that change can happen, which spreads awareness. It gives hope to people that they can help.”
A beautiful night of style and charity, Fashions for Passions—helmed by The Vietnamese Women’s Association of Toronto and fashion designer Thien Le—combined an evening of education with a head-turning runway show, courtesy of designers from |FAT| Arts & Fashion Week; engaging speeches from honourees such as screen legend Shirley Douglas and tempting auction items ranging from getaways to shopping sprees.
Amidst the fashion and glamour of the evening, the gala’s message circulated. Honoured guest and recipient of the event’s Icons of Empowerment award, Robin Kay, founder of Toronto Fashion Week, stresses the weight of the issue: “I want to remind every individual, that the problems we are aware of, are the problems we are obliged to attend to,” she asserts. “I encourage each person to know that the power of thought leads to action, that awareness is the first step to recovery, and while I am able to speak directly to you due to your respect for my field of fashion, each person has the power and choice to attend to others less fortunate.”
For Nagy, who dedicated her Icons of Empowerment award to the survivors and victims of human trafficking, events like Fashions for Passions are a humbling honour and a reminder that change is possible. “We can survive anything, and when we do, we can move mountains together.”Published October 17, 2014