Ontario police services joined forces in a week-long human trafficking investigation that provided immediate assistance to about 200 victims of sexual exploitation.
Police officers from 46 services including in London, Chatham-Kent, Hamilton, Windsor, Toronto and Ottawa took part in Operation Northern Spotlight. The effort involved more than 330 police officers, support staff and victim services.
"We know in human trafficking cases they cross jurisdictions all the time," said, OPP Insp. Tina Chalk from the Anti-Human Trafficking Investigation Coordination Team. "Getting police services speaking to one another, knowing who are the officers that are investigating these types of crimes is very important."
Chalk said it's also important that community services partner with police to help victims for what's described as a long road to recovery.
Police touched base with numerous victims including 11 in London, 11 in Windsor, and three in Chatham-Kent.
As a result of the investigation, police charged 12 people in Ontario with a total of 21 offences related to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Several charges related to exploitation of minors.
Two of the people OPP were able to help were under the age of 16.
Chalk advised guardians and parents to pay attention to what minors may be doing on the internet – as it may be a tool used by people to lure youth into exploitive acts.
"People should be mindful of what kids are engaged in online is really important and to who they're speaking to and recognizing some of the signs and for police is getting the word out there so people understand these issues," she said.
Chalk said there are several signs that a young person may be in trouble including:
- a new boyfriend nobody has met
- new gifts
- being absent from school
- becoming isolated from friends and family
- secrecy around on-line activities
- any physical symptoms of bruising or injuries
The investigation extended beyond provincial borders, with the RCMP leading a nationwide human trafficking blitz. The FBI also carried out a similar investigation – Operation Cross Country – in the U.S. and foreign countries including Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.