Greater Sudbury Police are cracking down on human trafficking cases in which women are being brought from southern Ontario to work in the sex trade — and officers are getting training to help.

Human trafficking might not be a term one would associate with a northern community, but Sudbury police say it is happening in the city. A new four-week training session will enable officers to recognize the signs of the recruitment and transportation of exploited women or men within the borders of a country or province.

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Greater Sudbury Police Const. Stephane Brouillette said police often turn to online ads to track potential victims of human trafficking. The local page of the website backpage.com is particularly popular, he said, and on any one day can have more than 10 ads from local women offering a menu of sexual services. (Hilary Duff/CBC)

An RCMP report released in 2010 said, of the more than 200 cases verified across the country that year, 90 per cent of human trafficking cases were domestic.

It’s a statistic with which Sudbury police Const. Stephane Brouillette would agree.

As he scrolls through a popular local escort website on a Friday afternoon, already 10 women have posted their ads on the site, promising sex and more.

'More pressure'

Brouillette said some of these women have been forced by their pimps to migrate north from southern Ontario to evade police in those regions who are swiftly following the human trafficking trail.

Power dynamic

Pimps can be involved in human trafficking, but in other instances there are networks where agencies hire drivers to bring the girls from southern Ontario to northern Ontario," Const. Stephane Brouillette said.

The title "pimp" loosely fits the definition of some level of control that’s being exercised over victims.

According to Brouillette, the longer a girl is in this relationship, "it would appear as though there are different emotional ties that become very strong. Somewhat akin to Stockholm Syndrome."

Pimps don’t meet the traditional definition of the word either, Brouillette said, and sometimes pimps can be a girl, an uncle… "There’s many dynamics that come into play."

"There's been a lot more pressure from the police departments conducting investigations in the southern parts of Ontario," Brouillette said.

"I would surmise that this has caused them to seek out other places where there's not so much attention from the law enforcement agencies."

That's why Brouillette is training his fellow officers to recognize and deal with potential human trafficking victims.

"A lot of the times we’ll find ads where the girls are billing themselves as Jamaican, Dominican, or any other ethnic background," Brouillette said. "Obviously the diversity in Sudbury is not that great, and a lot of the times the girls coming from the south seem to use [their ethnicity] as a selling feature.

Age is another important factor in human trafficking, Brouillette said.

On backpage.com, posters are required to list their age, however police said this information can be misleading.

"We tend to believe that sometimes the ages are embellished," Brouillette said. "The girls themselves may be a little older, posting younger ages to make themselves more attractive ... in some cases they’re actually younger than 18."

Starting off as equals

A woman can often become entangled in domestic human trafficking without her knowledge, said Christine Schmidt with Project PEACE.

In the case of street-level prostitution, Schmidt said a woman may become a victim of trafficking after a person has offered her a certain level of protection. In return for those favours, the woman may feel as though she owes that person something, and the cycle begins.

When it comes to escort work, Schmidt said the women often see themselves as equal business partners. "The pimp, or the person in charge, presents as more of a manager, because he’s the one who’s booking the hotel rooms, providing the transportation, and of this kind of stuff," she said.

"So in the beginning, she might even see herself as being equal, and it only becomes apparent over a period of time, once he’s assaulted her or controlled the money, that the women start to realize that this is not an equal relationship."

Helping the victims

A spokesperson with a sex workers advocacy group in Sudbury said her group, Project PEACE, often helps victims of human trafficking after they've become untangled from their pimp and sex network.

Typically the team sees women who are already looking for an exit strategy, said Christine Schmidt, one of the co-founders of the group. 

Women will often share snippets of stories with the team at Project PEACE, from physical abuse to experiences of being forced to go out on the street.

Once a woman approaches the group, it can take a number of actions, from contacting the police if there’s an immediate safety concern, to connecting her with sexual assault counselling.

"We might also try and reduce any concerns over confidentiality and identification, because that’s often an enormous concern when these women are first stepping forward," Schmidt said.

Going into schools

Brouillette said training for police will be ongoing for the next month. He added the public will also be included in an education campaign later this year, when a team of officers will go into Sudbury schools to talk about human trafficking, to try and protect them from being lured into a potential trafficking situation.

Though human trafficking is nothing new, Brouillette said the difference now is that people are finally starting to recognize it as an issue.

"There are a number of cases that have been in the media in Ottawa as well as southern Ontario," Brouillette said.

"I would like to believe that it's more of a heightened awareness towards what's going on in our actual communities."

How to recognize a victim of human trafficking

There are very few clear black and white indicators of human trafficking, but a combination of indicators could be:

  • They may be controlled or intimidated by someone else (i.e. being escorted or watched)
  • They may not speak on their own behalf and may not be English/French speaking
  • They may not have a passport or other I.D.
  • They may not be familiar with the neighborhood they live/work in
  • They may be moved frequently by their traffickers
  • They may have injuries/bruises from beatings and/or weapons
  • They may show visible signs of torture i.e. cigarette burns, cuts
  • They may show visible signs of branding or scarring (indicating ownership by the trafficker)
  • They may show signs of malnourishment
  • They may express fear and intimidation through facial expressions and/or body language

www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca