Calgary police ask for help in identifying potential victims of sexual exploitation, human trafficking
Number of sexually exploited youth apprehended steady in 2017 but police say crime is 'beyond under-reported'
Calgary police say they've apprehended 11 youth who were being sexually exploited so far this year and helped another 11 adults exit the sex trade.
The statistics for the first half of 2017 are not up significantly from the same time last year, but Staff Sgt. Jason Walker said the numbers only scratch the surface of what's actually going on in the city.
"These activities are beyond under-reported. They are, by their very nature, intentionally suppressed and hidden," Walker said Wednesday in a release.
"Victims are often reluctant to self-identify or seek help and, in some cases, research indicates that many cannot self-identify, as they are vulnerable and limited in their capacity to recognize that they are in fact being trafficked and sexually exploited to begin with."
He said human trafficking and sexual exploitation remain high priorities for the Calgary Police Service (CPS).
In the summer, especially, with more people outdoors and in public places, police are now asking the public for assistance in "recognizing potential signs" of victims being exploited.
Signs to watch for
Police said victims often don't speak English, are kept isolated or guarded when in public and may be coached by others when they are responding to questions.
Victims may also be unaware of what city they are in and be scared to seek help because they fear it will bring harm to themselves or their families. They may even try to protect their traffickers from being detected, as they develop loyalties toward them as a coping mechanism.
"The illicit elements of the sex trade are not victimless crimes," Walker said.
Traffickers cannot claim ignorance of an exploited victim's age to avoid being charged with child sexual exploitation, he added.
For adults looking to exit the sex trade, the CPS Prostitution Exit Initiative offers immediate help and is available by calling 403-428-8585.
Anyone with information about human trafficking activity is asked to call police at 403-266-1234.