Bawdy of Evidence skpix

Bawdy of Evidence is CBC Saskatchewan iTeam's investigation into massage parlours, prostitution and sexual exploitation. Graphic: Andre Mougeot/CBC

The story of 'Sarah', a Saskatchewan woman who became involved in prostitution, appears to have the hallmarks of a human trafficking case, a category of crime the RCMP says is on the rise around the world. 

The Regina woman, whose name is not being published out of concern for her safety, is attempting to leave a life of prostitution but says it's difficult because her pimp is forcibly demanding payment.

This is the sort of incident that inspired Ottawa to enact a new human trafficking law in 2005. 

It targets the forceful exploitation of people for the purposes of slavery or sex. 

CBC News has learned that so far just 100 charges have been laid across Canada, resulting in 35 convictions. 

According to the Statistics Canada numbers none of those convictions happened in Saskatchewan. 

Prosecuting human traffickers difficult

Detective Corporal Tim Filazek told CBC's iTeam that, as part of his undercover investigations, he's met women who he believes are being trafficked. 

Chris Harris

Detective Constable Chris Harris said he's often met women in hotels who he believes are being exploited and forced into the sex trade industry. (CBC)

"The signs are there whether they say 'I'm here with my boyfriend.' They don't have their ID. 'It's down in the car.' Well somebody's holding their ID for them. They 'don't have any cash.' Somebody else is holding the cash. They're working with somebody."

But he explained, there's a vast gap between believing someone is being exploited and being able to prove it. 

Filazek said he has offered to help these women escape but so far not a single one has taken him up on it. 

It's the same story in Saskatoon. 

Tim Filazek, Regina Police Service

Regina police officer Tim Filazek says the police continue to do checks on massage parlours to make sure the employees are not underage or are victims of human trafficking. (CBC)

Detective Constable Chris Harris said he's often met women in hotels who he believes are being exploited and forced into the industry. 

He explained that police attempt to build trust with the women in an effort to help them escape but "it'd be very foolish of us to think that they're going to just spill their guts and 'hallelujah finally someone's come and is going to save me from this.' Because it's been beat into them emotionally, possibly physically, that they have no options. 'This is your only option is to do this for us.'"

Human Trafficking laws ineffective so far

Benjamin Perrin, the author of Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking said his research indicates that police are barely scratching the surface, when it comes to human trafficking.

He's disappointed by how few charges have been laid in this country. 

Benjamin Perrin

Benjamin Perrin, a University of B.C. professor who has studied sex trafficking, says police are only scratching the surface of the problem. (CBC)

"This suggests that the criminals behind these enterprises are getting away with impunity, profiting lucratively, and we should be extremely concerned that that's the case."

Perrin insisted law enforcement and politicians need to get more serious about this problem, and they need to recognize that much of what's happening in the sex trade in Canada is in fact trafficking. 

"It's an inherently harmful practice. It's not a profession, it's not a job, it's not work. It's essentially systematic rape. It's only consented because there's money's involved, that's why people are continuing to do it day in and day out."

According to Perrin, his research and his own experience have demonstrated that it's very difficult for women who are being trafficked to escape. 

"Some of the literature talks about a crisis event occurring in the life of a prostitute or trafficking victim. Something significant, life-altering that causes them to flee or to leave."

But he said this is very rare. 

"Unfortunately for many of the particularly aboriginal women and girls, we never see exit. Instead, we see missing reports and bodies in the hundreds now of missing and murdered aboriginal women."