Human trafficking target of Operation Northern Spotlight

Police in Halifax have launched new investigations into human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

More than 330 women, some as young as 15, were interviewed during cross-Canada operation

An Alberta group that works to combat human trafficking says reported cases have increased dramatically. (Shutterstock)

Police in Halifax have launched new investigations into human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The investigations are the result of an operation conducted last week.

Operation Northern Spotlight took place on Jan. 22 and Jan. 23 and involved more than 30 police services across the country. More than 330 women were interviewed. Investigators found a number of the women were being forced to perform sexual acts multiple times a day for paying clients. 

Police say some women said they had been forced into performing sexual acts through threats of violence, drug dependency, physical intimidation and other forms of coercion. 

Police in Halifax interviewed women as young as 15 during the operation.

In a CBC News investigation earlier this month, a teenager who worked as a prostitute said dozens of teens in Halifax, some as young as 13, are selling their bodies for sex online.

"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 were 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."

Const. Tammy Lobb of the Integrated Vice Unit wouldn’t say how officers reached out to women for their operation. She would only say they met with the women late last week.

"The Integrated Vice Unit interviewed eight women ages 15 to 40 who are involved in the sex industry," she said.

No charges have been laid but police say they've gathered enough information to start several investigations including into the case of the 15-year-old girl.

Lobb said while police know some women enter the industry willingly, others are forced into it — in some cases, even taken out of province.

"There can be a lot of physical and emotional abuse involved as well as the transporting, the driving, the controlling — so those are all elements of the human trafficking offences as well," she said.

While there are no charges out of Operation Northern Spotlight, police say the operation accomplished another important goal — a chance to remind the women about services in the community that can help them get out of the industry.