A 14-year-old at the centre of a human trafficking case is among the youngest girls allegedly forced into prostitution in Halifax in decades, says a senior police officer who warns social media has provided more avenues for pimps to find young victims.
Staff Sgt. Darrell Gaudet said Monday that such cases are rare in the Halifax region.
Having investigated prostitution for more than 20 years, Gaudet said he has dealt with four cases of 14-year-olds involved in the illegal sex trade since the 1990s, when the province set up a task force on prostitution.
The youngest victim he helped was 13.
"It is extremely rare around here," Gaudet said in an interview from Halifax Regional Police headquarters. "It's a statement on what people will do to make illegal money. And these young girls and boys don't make any of that money. They are being victimized and revictimized."
20-year-old man facing 11 charges
Gaudet said he couldn't talk about the details of the latest case, which went before a provincial court judge in Halifax for the first time Monday.
The accused, 20-year-old Owen Ross Gibson-Skeir, was scheduled to make a court appearance, but he chose instead to stay in a jail cell on the lower floor of the courthouse.
His lawyer, Kai Glasgow, said his client didn't want to face the media.
"He's aware that it's been in the press," the defence lawyer said outside court. "He just didn't want to go through that this morning."
Gibson-Skeir was arrested Saturday, a day after Halifax police asked for the public's help in finding him. He is facing nearly a dozen charges, including sexual assault, advertising sexual services and trafficking a person under the age of 18.
'Opened up things for the predators'
Police said he was listed as wanted after an investigation into the alleged sexual exploitation of a 14-year-old girl over the last two months.
In court, Glasgow agreed to have his client return to court on April 20 for a possible bail hearing or plea. The accused consented to be returned to custody.
Gaudet, a Halifax police officer for 28 years, said the alleged victim is "OK," but he declined to be more specific.
"When you get a youth that age who has been procured and manipulated into being sexually exploited, it's very serious," he said, adding that the rapid growth of social media has provided more avenues for pimps to find young victims.
"It's opened up things for the predators," he said.
Statistics are hard to come by
The Canadian Women's Foundation, in a study released last fall, said that a survey of 120 survivors of the sex trade found that the average age for new recruits was 13.
Anuradha Dugal, director of violence prevention, said increased recruiting in larger cities is the main reason why the national number is so low.
"If you talk to children's aid societies, people running group homes and groups that work with marginalized youth ... many of those groups would concur that by 13 and 14, it's already too late if they are involved," she said.
"The prevention work needs to happen in grades six, seven and eight."
Meredith Ralston, a women studies professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, said there are few reliable statistics available to measure how many minors are involved in the sex trade.
Social media involved in recruitment
Ralston said social media is playing a larger role in the recruitment of young prostitutes, but there remain the traditional methods of seeking vulnerable people outside group homes and high schools.
"Luckily, I don't think it is that common," she said, referring to those recruited at 14.
"We don't see it that much in the media. But it's so hard as a researcher to get stats ... Obviously, there's more in bigger cities because there's more strip clubs (where there's local trafficking). We only have one strip club here."