Sunday, December 27, 2015
HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND THE SEX TRADE
At the beginning of April, federal authorities announced that in recent days they had moved against two cells of an international human trafficking network and arrested six people in the greater Montreal and Toronto areas. The accused face an array of human smuggling, prostitution charges, and criminal organization charges. Arrests were made after 16 raids in Toronto and the greater Montreal area between March 27 and April 1.
Police said seven suspects are allegedly part of two cells of an Asian-based organized crime ring that operated bawdy houses in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. As many as 500 women, mostly from Korea and China, were purportedly smuggled into the country to take part in a nation-wide prostitution ring. The women received assistance from a “criminal organization” to enter Canada either illegally through land crossings or with student and visitors visas obtained under false pretences. They were then put to work in brothels across the country.
“They were supported, controlled and exploited by a prostitution ring that operated across Canada,” a RCMP spokesperson said. “The victims were exploited for several weeks in one place and then transported across the country to continue the same line of work, still in appalling conditions.” After a few weeks or months, the girls were returned to their country of origin. “A good number of the women have already returned to their countries … because there was a certain rotation. There are still women in other cells in Canada.”
The RCMP spokesperson told reporters the women were aware they were coming to Canada to work in prostitution, but were told the working conditions would be safe and sanitary.
Although this case highlights the transnational nature of the trafficking of women for sexual purposes, research and police investigations suggest that most women forced into the sex trade in this country are from Canada. Aboriginal women and girls are particularly vulnerable. And Anupriya Sethi says a nation-wide strategy is needed to address this issue. In March, Sethi delivered a keynote address at a public forum organized by the Winnipeg Sexually Exploited Youth Community Coalition. In 2007, Sethi published a study on the topic of domestic sex trafficking of aboriginal girls in Canada, documenting what makes indigenous women and girls more vulnerable to being trafficked.
She said victims are being recruited at airports after coming from small, remote communities. They are often susceptible to the advances made by pimps and are offered a place to stay. That is when they are forced into the sex trade, Sethi told CBC News. Sethi said recruitment spots include schools and bars, and it’s often boyfriends who are the traffickers. Other girls are involved in recruiting, she added. Sethi identified a trafficking route for aboriginal girls and women between Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg. “One girl said she would go to sleep in Winnipeg and wake up in Regina,” Sethi said.
Elise Wohlbold, who is studying the pimping of young women in Ottawa, told CBC News that she has identified 140 women who said they had been forced into the sex trade in that city, with 90 per cent of them born in Canada.
“We knew human trafficking was happening, but the extent is surprising … they range from the age of 12 to 25.”
Wohlbold estimates the human trafficking industry in Ottawa is worth $26 million, with prostitution making up the bulk of that illicit revenue. Ottawa police said the average price for an escort is $200 an hour.
In Montreal, police say pimps are targeting young women at malls, schools, youth centres, metro stations and bus terminals. The pimps often try to manipulate victims into thinking that they are entering the sex trade on their own volition, then forcing them to remain in the trade through intimidation and violence. “The victim doesn’t feel like she’s being exploited at first,” according to Montreal police officer Josée Mensales, who co-created the Survivors program, focused on sexual exploitation. “She feels like she’s actually working for a common plan — buying a condo, buying a car, within a couple of months it’s paid for, that’s what these traffickers, these pimps are presenting to their victims.” The pimp will also befriend and impress the young women, buying them expensive meals and thousands of dollars’ worth of clothes and shoes.
Sources: Canadian Press, April 4, 2015, RCMP Bust Canada-Wide Human-Smuggling, Prostitution Ring;Associated Press, April 12, 2015, Canada police: 7 arrested in massive Asian prostitution ring; CBC News, April 1, 2015, Prostitution ring arrests in Montreal and Toronto; CBC News, March 12, 2015, Domestic trafficking an issue for aboriginal women and girls, says Canadian author; CBC News, March 24, 2015, Ottawa police target human trafficking, a $26M industry; CBC News, April 1, 2015, Pimps target teens at Montreal malls.