Hamilton Police found a 15-year-old girl working as an escort in a downtown apartment building in mid-December and have brought three prostitution-related charges against a 27-year-old woman in connection with the girl's work.
On Dec. 17, police heard the 15-year-old was missing, and found her three days later. She told investigators that she had been working as part of an escort service "for a few weeks."
Police arrested a 27-year-old Hamilton woman on Friday and laid three charges against her: "Material benefit from sexual services", "Exercise control/Person under 18 years" and "advertising sexual service."
While police say they have no specific statistics about teens being lured into prostitution, Karen Smith, executive director of the Community Child Abuse Council, said the incident is alarming.
"We have obvious concerns about buying or obtaining sexual services from a minor and about anyone benefiting from that activity," Smith said. "By law, children can't consent to sexual activity."
Police say these are the first charges they have laid under new federal prostitution laws, which took effect Dec. 6. It was already illegal to facilitate prostitution with a minor, but police took advantage of the chance to charge the 27-year-old with the offence of "advertising sexual service" under the new law, said spokesman Stephen Welton.
Welton didn't say whether the charges carry more weight or larger sentencing potential. The investigation is ongoing.
Police also wouldn't say whether the teenage prostitution incident represents any kind of trend in Hamilton.
"In regards to statistics about this (ex. age range or number of teenagers involved in the sex trade industry in Hamilton), we do not have any specifics to provide," said Hamilton Police detective Sara Martin, who focuses on vice, drugs and human trafficking. "We will continue to analyze these types of crime as we move forward."
Smith said she hopes the police intervention means the young woman involved can "get the help she needs."
"It's a good reminder of the importance of teaching young people their rights," she said. "And it's a call to action for any community for adults to listen, observe and act so that our youngest citizens are kept safe."