Tara Teng is known to many Canadians as Miss Canada 2011. But those who know her know that she is far more than just a beauty queen. She is also a dedicated abolitionist who has made ending human trafficking her life’s work. CanadianChristianity.com caught up with Teng after her nation-wide Ignite the Road to Justice Tour in which she travelled with a small caravan to 10 cities across Canada raising awareness and igniting people’s passion for social justice.
CC.com: How was the Ignite the Road to Justice Tour?
Teng: Ignite the road to justice was so great. It was so much fun. It was just incredible to see people. We went to a lot of communities where people had no idea that human trafficking was even an issue. Specifically it was human trafficking in Canada but as well as around the world. The summer right before Ignite the Road to Justice I went on [an anti-human trafficking] tour of Thailand and Cambodia. There’s more slavery today than ever before at any time in human history. That’s so huge. Canada is not immune. This is something we struggle with as well.
We drove. It was one day short of three weeks, so it was 20 days, we hit 10 cities, it’s incredible. It was hard, it was challenging, but there were miracles every single day. It was really cool. We did our big kickoff in Vancouver. It was a huge success, we packed out Coastal church downtown and we had 12 or 14 NGO’s that came.
CC.com: How was this tour unique?
Teng: One thing that was really unique about Ignite the Road to Justice is it wasn’t just a speaking tour. That wasn’t what it was about. We wanted to ignite people’s passion for social justice and specifically awaken them to the reality of human trafficking. We wanted them to become aware. I shared stories of individuals that I know personally that I have met in Thailand, in Cambodia, in Vancouver, in Toronto — people around the world that have had their lives affected by this.
I feel like once you meet these individuals you can’t turn away. And so we shared these stories, we talked about it but we didn’t want them to just get inspired, we didn’t want them to just get excited. We wanted them to move that excitement and that compassion into action. So we invited all the different groups that were in each community that were fighting human trafficking on that level. So we had groups in Vancouver that were fighting human trafficking in Vancouver as well as Vancouver groups who were involved in projects around the world. We did this in all 10 cities.
So the cool thing was you come to these events, you hear these stories your heart is stirred, you’re inspired, you want to do something, but we made it really easy for you. You don’t have to go home and look up on google, what’s happening in my city. We brought everybody to you.
CC.com: How do you respond to the critics who want to legalize prostitution?
Teng: I think that if people want to talk about a safe environment, legalizing prostitution will not make it safer. Period. History has proven that. I understand there are so many skeptics and people say, yes, prostitution has been around forever. And it has been around forever. This is not a new crisis; this is not a new form of oppression. If 92 per cent of individuals in prostitution say that they want out, if they’re not there by choice. Well then, sex that’s not by choice has to be called what it is and it’s rape, and it’s violence and you can’t make that safer by legalizing it, licensing it, sanitizing it, and sticking it indoors.
When you’re talking about an industry that capitalizes on the selling, the renting of people’s body parts, for whatever you want to do with them, whatever violence you want to put towards somebody. When you’re talking about an industry that capitalizes on racially oppressed women, on impoverished women, on minors, on children, it capitalizes on immigrants, it capitalizes on people who though they were coming to Canada to be nannies and then tricks them into becoming prostitutes.
I can’t imagine that. I can’t believe that we’re having that conversation. And that’s why I do what I do, that’s why I work so hard to educate people to get the word out. That’s why there’s so many people not just me in Canada that are working around the clock to try and stop this. And I believe that it is possible because I know who our God is.
If we really do commit to this and we get people involved and get them standing together, I believe that we can stop this I believe that we can make sure that it won’t be legalized in Canada. And that’s my heart, that’s why we do what we do. I cannot imagine living life as a sex slave that’s forced to prostitute or be beaten, or starved or electrocuted. I can’t imagine living in that kind of reality, yet there are millions of people in the world that are living in that reality.
CC.com: What can I do to get involved and how can I help?
Teng: 1. I think the first step really is to educate yourself. There’s so much lack of knowledge regarding human trafficking. There’s been a lot more of acute awareness in the last couple of years but still there’s so many myths that need to be broken especially if you get into sexual exploitation and prostitution. A lot of people just don’t understand and we have our stereotypes and we need to not judge and we need to sit there and go, okay maybe there’s more to this story than I realize. Don’t get overwhelmed but remember the big picture.
2. Talk to your MPs, they are the decision makers in Canada. The beauty of the democratic system is they work for us. Start that dialogue and tell them this is a reality in Canada & around the world.
3. Ask for a national action plan & adopt the Nordic model. If there’s no demand there’s no supply. Sweden [adopted the Nordic Model and] made the purchasing of sexual services and sex illegal in the country. It targets the demand. If you are caught buying sex from a prostituted woman, you go to jail.
Right now human trafficking in one year makes more than Google, Nike, and Starbucks combined. It’s the fastest growing crime and the second most profitable industry on the planet right after drugs. But unlike drugs, you sell once and then it’s done. But if I was trafficking you, I could traffic you every day and sell you to 10, 20 men a night until you die or get sick. We need to make human trafficking not profitable or not worth it. Traffickers are very committed to it because they’re making a lot of money so they need to be even more committed in the fight to end human trafficking if we’re going to see anything happen.
CC.com: How are you planning to follow up with the tour? Are you planning to do anything else?
Teng: There are always ideas. I got off a conference call this morning with some of my colleagues back in Langley, BC and we’ve been putting forward a proposal to Langley city. We want to start this discussion of creating a local action plan to traffick proof Langley. We are actively educating our people and we are engaged in this, we’re not looking the other way but we’re doing something about it.
Looking ahead to 2012, I have a speaking tour of BC and the Yukon for teenage girls that I’m doing with the PAOC and I’m very excited about that because I can’t wait to see the youth, the girls empowered and just see the power and voice that they have.