Allure of big bucks pulls girls into online prostitution, teen says
WARNING: This story contains graphic language
A teenager who sold sex before she was old enough to drive says underage Halifax girls are moved between cities to sell their bodies, and some are lured by the prospect of making tens of thousands of dollars in a month.
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"You go and you post an ad online or somebody posts the ad for you … Then you sell your ass to a bunch of people," said Amanda. Her real name and age are being withheld to protect her identity.
"If you're working for somebody, you give them the money and then if you're not, you keep it for yourself."
A CBC News investigation reveals underage prostitution in the Halifax area is growing, and police are seeing more girls — some as young as 13 — being exploited.
Amanda's mother, Karen, was featured in a CBC story earlier this week about her quest to stop underage prostitution online after discovering her daughter's involvement in it.
Karen has monitored the online classified sites selling sex in Halifax and calls police when she discovers someone she believes is a child prostitute. More teens will be sucked into prostitution, she warns, unless police and other agencies step up.
"We have a huge problem in this city and it can affect anyone with a teenage son or daughter," she said.
"Nobody is immune to this. Nobody. If they want your child, they're coming and getting your child and you have to fight them. That's what's been going on in our lives."
Investigators say the internet is making it harder for officers to shut down the online sex trade.
"It's grown and I think it's been facilitated by different factors," said Det. Andrew Matthews, head of the vice unit with members of the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police.
"I think you have to look at the ease of access with the internet, with social networking. The anonymity that comes with the internet.
"It is on our radar. We are aware of it and there are currently investigations into some different files right now, but we're aware of it. It's present."
Amanda said the issue isn't isolated to Halifax — she has seen underage girls go to Truro, Antigonish, Digby, Moncton and Fredericton, as well as larger cities such as Toronto and Montreal.
'The tip of the iceberg'
At $240 an hour for intercourse, Amanda said she knows young teens who will see multiple johns a day and generate tens of thousands of dollars in a month. Travelling to another city means more money and usually it's arranged by a pimp, she said.
"Girls don't usually set up for themselves to fly or drive to Moncton and sell their bodies, so it would definitely be something that was set up for them," Amanda told CBC News.
"They could go to classy hotels. They could go to motels, houses, apartments. Some of these people could have families that are home. People are weird."
The Nova Scotia and New Brunswick governments have taken some steps to improve online safety for teens and raise awareness about human trafficking.
In Nova Scotia, the Department of Justice points to its CyberSCAN investigative unit, which was created to address cyberbullying. In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for the department said the CyberSCAN unit "also addresses complaints and works with police in cases where a young person may be being exploited online."
In New Brunswick, the Women's Equality Branch has a human trafficking working group that brings together community members, service providers, police and the government to raise awareness about human trafficking in the province.
David Matas, the North American representative of the non-governmental organization End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), said awareness is good, but more needs to be done.
"This is happening through the internet and there should be controls through the internet about this. Who are the internet service providers? Who is hosting the websites?" he said.
"I guess you can be satisfied that the johns are not going to be civically, responsible but the websites should be."
Getting details on websites is one of the biggest stumbling blocks faced by police.
"Anything that has to do with an American company, which a lot of them are, we have to go out of the country, and there's a lot of paperwork and there's a lot of time delays involved in that," said Matthews.
"That's one thing we have to look at as a society. How do we make that happen faster? We have to be able to speed that up a bit."
'Girls get beat up'
Police in Fredericton, meanwhile, said while they have seen isolated cases of underage prostitution, they don't have a handle on the scope of the problem in their jurisdiction.
"I think we just have a grasp on the tip of the iceberg," said Insp. Gary Forward of Fredericton police.
There have been some successes.
Last year, Halifax Regional Police and RCMP ran a joint sting operation, posing as a 16-year-old girl selling sex online. An undercover officer exchanged hundreds of emails with adult men and five of them went so far as to show up at a motel or hotel to meet her, only to be confronted by officers.
Three have since pleaded guilty to child luring. The other two are fighting the charge in court. A decision in one of those cases is expected on Wednesday.
Fear and violence are used to control girls selling sex, said Amanda.
"If you f--- up, you're done for. It depends on who you're dealing with," she said.
"Girls get beat up. Other girls that fear for their lives, they think that if they tell or if they leave, that their families are going to be murdered."