Toronto police have arrested eight people and filed more than 40 human trafficking charges, alleging that gang members recruited girls as young as 14 to work as prostitutes under the threat of violence.
Police say the accused include members of the Galloway Boys street gang, whose members groomed their victims, forced them to work as prostitutes from hotels and motels and then collected and kept their earnings.
A total of 44 human trafficking charges have been laid as a result of the Project Dove probe.
Police are looking for four suspects in connection with the probe, and warrants have been issued for their arrest.
The accused range in age from 17 to 25 years old. The victims are from 14 to 17 years old.
Two of the accused are females, while three would fall under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
The accused were arrested Thursday in a series of early-morning raids across the Greater Toronto Area.
Police say so far they have found "less than 10" victims but believe there are more and are asking for the public to come forward if they have information.
'They've been entrenched in this lifestyle'
"It takes a lot of courage for the victims to come forward," Toronto police Insp. Joanna Beaven-Desjardins said Friday. "They've been entrenched in this lifestyle and coming forward is very hard."
She said the investigation began last year when police began to learn of teenagers lured into prostitution, often by people close to their own age. In some cases, police were alerted by missing persons reports filed by family members.
"These pimps will groom them, they will build a relationship with them," said Beaven-Desjardins. "They'll try and build a trust with them. In most cases, they'll try to make the victim believe that they're in love with them. These victims are sometimes just looking for attention and affection and these pimps know exactly what these girls are looking for and they feed off of that."
Beaven-Desjardins said the victims were forced to work out of hotels and motels across the Greater Toronto Area and as far away as Montreal.
"[The suspects] know that if they keep the victims moving, they can avoid detection," she said.
She added that for street gangs, prostitution is a common way to earn money, saying it's often more lucrative than trafficking in guns or drugs.
The complete news conference is posted below.