Some of the words used to talk about sex trafficking may be unfamiliar to you. Here is a brief dictionary of words and concepts that relate to sex trafficking.

Affirmative Consent

Sexual activity is only legal when both parties consent. Consent is defined in Canada’s Criminal Code in section 273.1(1), as the voluntary agreement to engage in the sexual activity in question. The law focuses on what the person was actually thinking and feeling at the time of the sexual activity. Sexual touching is only lawful if the person affirmatively communicated their consent, whether through words or conduct. Silence or passivity does not equal consent.

What is required for consent to sexual activity[1]:
Consent occurs where there is a voluntary agreement by an individual to engage in specific sexual activity/activities or conduct. This requires that a person is able to make a reasonably informed choice and that the choice is made freely. There is no consent in a variety of situations including but not limited to:

  • if there is force, threats or the threat of force to the young person or anyone else
  • if there is fraud or deceit
  • if someone other than the young person agrees on their behalf that they will engage in sexual activity
  • if the young person is incapable of consenting
  • if the young person changes their mind or expresses disagreement at any point during the sexual activity

Sexual activities a minor can never consent to:

A young person cannot consent to sexual activities if they will:

  • result in bodily harm to either person or harm that is more than fleeting or trivial
  • occur as a result of prostitution, trade, compensation or an exchange of any kind
  • be videotaped, photographed or recorded in any way, including audio shown or transmitted on the internet.

It is also illegal to photograph/film anyone under 18 years old naked or partially undressed. Any occurrence of this type of behaviour should be reported to the police.

Types of relationships where minors cannot consent:

A young person under age 18 cannot consent to sexual contact if their relationship to the other person is one where the other person has the balance of power. Types of relationships with a power imbalance include:

  • a position of trust
  • a position of authority
  • an exploitative relationship
  • a dependent relationship

Note: if someone is under 12 years old, they cannot consent to sexual activity with anyone.

Where a young person is aged 12 or 13, the young person may have sexual contact with someone who is within 2 years of their age.

Where a young person is aged 14 or 15, they may have sexual contact with a person who is within 5 years of their age.

Where a young person is aged 16 or 17, they can have sexual contact with anyone, as long as there is no exchange of something for the sexual activity.

In all instances of sexual contact with young persons between 12-17 the following thresholds must be met:

  • there is consent
  • the sexual partner is not in a position of trust or authority
  • the sexual partner is not in a relationship with the young person that is exploitative
  • the young person is not in a relationship of dependency with the sexual partner

[1] Richardson (nee Berry), Runner, Hallick, Rocke and Scheirich. Understanding and Working with Sexually Exploited/Sex Trafficked Children and Youth, eds 2004, 2009 & 2015. Authors copyrighted. All Rights Reserved.


When an exploiter/trafficker manipulates a youth into thinking they are in a relationship. It’s a tactic used by many exploiters to win the trust of the youth.


Boundaries are the physical, emotional and mental limits we establish to protect ourselves from being manipulated, used or violated by others. Boundaries allow us to separate who we are and what we think and feel from the thoughts and feelings of others.

Culturally appropriate, trauma-informed care

This refers to the capacity of care providers to effectually provide trauma-informed interventions that acknowledge, respect and integrate people’s cultural values, beliefs, and practices into interventions.

Human trafficking

The United Nations defines Human Trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

John (offender)

A John is an individual who pays for or exchanges something of value for sexual services. Johns are usually men who pay prostituted, trafficked or sexually exploited individuals for sexual services. Johns create the demand. Regardless of whether the individual providing the sexual services is a consenting adult, buying sexual services is illegal in Canada.

Obtaining Sexual Services for Consideration

According to Prostitution Criminal Law, obtaining a sexual service for consideration involves an agreement for a specific sexual service in return for payment or another kind of consideration, including drugs and alcohol.

Pimp (offender)

A pimp is a person who controls and financially benefits from the commercial sexual exploitation of another person. Pimp and sex trafficker are interchangeable terms. People cannot consent to being pimped or sex trafficked.

Recruiter (offender)

A recruiter is a person who is responsible for recruiting an individual who will be trafficked for sex. People under the age of 18 cannot legally consent to engage in the sex trade.

Sex trafficked

The sex trafficked are the individuals (female, male and 2SLGBTQ+) who are lured, coerced and forced to supply sexual services.

Sex trafficker (offender)

A sex trafficker is a person responsible for recruiting, harbouring, transporting, obtaining or providing a person and especially a minor for the purpose of sex. Sex trafficker and pimp are interchangeable terms, and both roles are illegal.

Sex trafficking

Sex trafficking is the illegal business of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, obtaining or providing a person and especially a minor for the purpose of sex. No one can consent to being sex trafficked.

Sex trafficking Survivors

People who have experienced sex trafficking and wish to use more empowering terminology to describe themselves. Survivors may also identify as victims of crime and often wish to emphasize the importance of preventing further exploitation.

Sexual services

According to Prostitution Criminal Law, a sexual service is a service that is sexual in nature and whose purpose is to sexually gratify the person who receives it.

Sugar daddy

A sugar daddy is typically a wealthy, older person who spends money on someone in exchange for sexual favours and intimacy. These types of relationships are only legal with consenting adults over the age of 18.

The Game

“The game” is used to describe the subculture of prostitution and sex trafficking. The game has rules, levels of authority and a unique language. Referring to pimping as the game gives the illusion that it can be a fun and easy way to make money, when the reality is much harsher.

Trauma-informed care

Identifying and being mindful of signs and symptoms of trauma in people being cared for so that interventions will not re-traumatize them.


A trick is a sex act performed for money or the person buying it. Someone who is being sex trafficked is “turning a trick or “with a trick”. A trick is also how people who are being sex trafficked refer to the men who are purchasing sex from them. In this sense, a trick means the same thing as a John.

Victims of sex trafficking

Victims of sex trafficking are understood as victims of a crime—in this case it can involve forced confinement and physical and sexual assaults.