Local police shine light on ‘staggering’ human trafficking issue
The Catholic Women’s League (CWL) of the Holy Martyrs of Japan Parish in Bradford held an event Thursday focusing on the issue of human trafficking — specifically, sex trafficking.
The CWL invited Det.-Const. Holly Murray and Det.-Const. Dan Raymond from the South Simcoe Police Service (SSPS) to bring awareness to the issue.
Murray and Raymond are partners in the criminal investigations bureau at the SSPS and their primary roles are to investigate crimes against persons, including human trafficking.
The United Nations states human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime on the planet and is a $32-billion-per-year industry.
“A victim typically makes $250,000 per year performing sex acts for their trafficker,” said Murray. “It’s sad in itself that there’s actually this much business for these women.”
“A lot of the time, traffickers are running multiple girls, and every girl for them makes them $250,000,” added Raymond. “These girls are servicing 20, 30, 40 men throughout the whole day, and it’s a never-ending cycle.”
The SSPS has been involved in five human trafficking-related cases in the past five years; they’ve primarily been sex trafficking cases, with one labour trafficking incident.
“It’s an under-reported offence, so I’m sure there are several more we don’t know about,” said Murray. “In 2018, a mother and father contacted police and said a man had picked (their daughter) up and they’d lost contact with her. Red flags were raised and the parents didn’t have a good feeling.
“We look into it and find out she has run off with a trafficker, he cast the line and she bit. It started on Instagram. He groomed her, he lured her, and he complimented her. He kept tabs on her and watched her to make sure she was where she said she was. Eventually, he took her to hotels and numerous locations. It probably all happened within three or four weeks,” said Murray.
“We learned who it was and we were able to locate them. Her and I sat for four or five hours and, finally, she was able to disclose all the things that were happening to her. It’s staggering when you think about how we don’t even have establishments like a hotel in Bradford,” Murray explained.
“Our community resides on the (Highway) 400 corridor, the gateway for traffickers to travel through. We are not immune to this offence and we’ll probably be investigating a lot more once these hotels are up and running.”
While human trafficking is a global issue, 93 per cent of people trafficked in Canada are from within Canada’s borders.
“A lot of the time, the victim actually knows their trafficker,” said Raymond. “Often, it’s somebody who they’re in a relationship with. By the time that a high school girl is in Grade 12, 50 per cent have been reached out to by a trafficker. It’s not to say they’ve bit, but it is to say that a lot of these guys will find 100 different Facebook and Instagram profiles and send messages to these girls. One out of that 100 is going to bite. When that conversation starts and that seed is planted, it’s a tough road to get out of.”
Eighty-one per cent of traffickers are male and 24 per cent of people trafficked in Canada are younger than 18.
“Anyone could be at risk of being trafficked,” said Murray. “Typically, a trafficker will identify and target somebody based on their vulnerabilities in an effort to form a bond with them and gain their trust. Most people who are trafficked are women and girls. However, boys and men also are, as well as people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community.
“Those at higher risk are homeless and marginalized youth, women and youth that struggle with low self-esteem, bullying, discrimination, poverty, abuse, isolation, and other social or family issues. Indigenous women and girls are at a heightened risk because of isolation and colonization. Addiction, mental health, and developmental disabilities are also a factor.”
The Indigenous community makes up only four per cent of Canada’s population, but 50 to 70 per cent of people trafficked in Canada are Indigenous.
“It’s a lot of isolation living on reservations, which a lot of these women do,” said Raymond. “You don’t have a lot of the resources, the care and comfort isn’t always there, and these are big vulnerabilities for these women.”
“We know some of the Indigenous reservations are not a nice place to live, and when a trafficker can offer an Indigenous girl a nice life down in central Ontario and promise her big things, she might bite,” added Murray. “It’s a staggering statistic for Indigenous women.”
Two-thirds of human trafficking cases in Canada take place in Ontario, and most are sex trafficking.
“We’re the biggest province, but the important thing with Ontario is that we have a highway throughout the whole province,” said Raymond. “Really, Ontario is the gateway to the rest of Canada; we’ve got the 400-series corridor, a lot of different border crossings with the States. Trafficking isn’t limited to one particular city. We see the same person end up in Sarnia, then Hamilton, Toronto, Bradford, North Bay, Timmins, Thunder Bay. They do a loop. It’s very transient and moving all of the time.”
There are six stages of sex trafficking: luring, grooming, isolation, manipulation, threats, and exploitation.
“We refer to the first stage as the honeymoon stage,” said Murray. “They’ll find their prey, and it’s usually someone they’re connected with through social media. They’ll suddenly be very interested in you and compliment you and romance you, essentially. That moves into grooming, where you’ve got a boyfriend who’s buying you nice things and promising you a future and telling you that you don’t need your family.”
“That sets up the isolation stage, where the trafficker tries to cut them off from their family,” added Raymond. “They put it into your head that they’re the only one who cares about you, which moves into the manipulation stage. In the manipulation stage, the trafficker will ask you to do sexual acts to pay back any money that’s been spent.
“The traffickers promise an extravagant life and supply them with a car or a condo, but then it gets to the point where the trafficker makes them work off the debt. They then coerce you into sex trafficking with threats against you or someone you know. The exploitation stage is when the trafficker forces them to have sex in exchange for money or drugs. Often, the victims aren’t fully aware of what’s happening.”
Murray and Raymond encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with the signs of grooming because whether it’s parents, teachers or friends, they may be able to spot it if they know what to look for.
“If they’re withdrawn from their family or friends, that’s a good sign,” said Murray. “If they’re typically social and it starts to decline, it’s something to pay attention to. Being secretive about their activities is also important, especially with the social media piece. Children have phones at a young age, and it’s concerning that access to young girls online is so easy.
“If they have a new friend or boyfriend that they haven’t introduced and you don’t know anything about them, if they’re older, it’s concerning as well. Is she gone for long periods of time? Is she doing poorly in school? Is she showing up with new clothes or jewelry? These are indicators of the grooming stage of someone luring her in. They find out what she wants and they give it to her.”
The detectives also said women being trafficked can be identified in the community, and there are certain indicators.
“A big one is that they’re not allowed to speak for themselves and their activities are being constantly controlled by somebody else,” said Raymond. “Through the threatening, manipulation, and coercion, the victims often feel like the only person they can trust is their trafficker. (they might) seem anxious, paranoid, submissive, depressed, if they avoid eye contact with people.”
“In really bad circumstances, some traffickers will have their victims tattooed or branded with a symbol or name to claim ownership of that person,” added Murray. “It happens quite often, and a lot of the time these girls are so overworked that they don’t eat or sleep.”
Since 2018, the SSPS has worked in partnership with the York Regional Police Anti-Human Trafficking Unit conducting probes into online advertisements in an effort to identify victims of human trafficking.
“We are actively monitoring local hotel developments as well as … private accommodations such as Airbnbs to help eradicate human trafficking in our jurisdiction,” said Murray.
With police-led programs no longer being available in schools, the SSPS isn’t able to speak to students about the dangers of human trafficking, and it strongly encourages people to speak with their children.
“That’s why things like this are really important, because, hopefully, we gave you a bit of an arsenal to go home and speak to your kids about it,” said Raymond. “Hopefully, we gave you the resources for this to open the door to a conversation.”
National resources include the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking and the Canadian Centre for Child Protection. Local resources include the Ontario Native Women’s Association and Victim Services of Simcoe County.