Montreal

Police officers, sex trade experts worried after string of youth home disappearances

A team of police officers that tries to help young women leave the sex trade is worried about what's happening at a group home in Laval.

Authorities worry girls who went missing in Laval may have been lured away for sexual exploitation

Laval police officers Melissa Carrera (left) and Marlène Langevin are co-ordinators of Survivantes for the Laval region, a project that connects young girls with former sex trade workers. (Alison Northcott/CBC)

A team of police officers that tries to help young women leave the sex trade is worried about what's happening at a group home in Laval.

In the last week and a half, five teenage girls disappeared from the youth protection home Centre Jeunesse de Laval. Four have been found.

Officials and parents worried the girls were lured away for sexual exploitation.

It's left many wondering whether the centre has been infiltrated by gangs, but experts say it's hard to tell.

"Social media [plays] a big role" in recruiting girls, says Melina Larizza, RCMP co-ordinator for human trafficking awareness. (CBC)

"This isn't a new phenomenon, so to point out and say that this youth centre is having issues, it's hard to say," said Melina Larizza, a co-ordinator for human trafficking awareness at the RCMP.

"Social media [plays] a big role."

Prostitution starts young

One group that offers services and support to women who have entered the sex trade, La CLES, says that most women get into the industry at a very young age.

The organization, which offers services such as counselling and career guidance says that after years of being in the sex trade, the women don't know how to get out.

Girls are often lured into sexual exploitation at a young age, says La CLES spokeswoman Eliane Legault-Roy. (CBC)

"They might not have a proper education, or they have big holes in their CV so it looks weird. So it might be difficult for them to find a new job, and then they're on welfare," said Éliane Legault-Roy, a spokeswoman for La CLES.

"Women told us, 'How could I know what I need?' She was so disconnected from herself, and she hadn't thought about herself [to the point that] she was like, 'How could I know?'"

If the girl is in the honeymoon phase and is in love with her pimp, it's hard for her to get out,- Marlène Langevin, Survivantes co-ordinator in Laval region

Another group, called Les Survivantes, tries to intervene before women get too involved in the sex trade. It connects former sex trade workers with young girls.

"A girl has to be ready to hear the truth," says Marlène Langevin, a Laval police officer and one of the Laval co-ordinators of the Survivantes project – a program that began in Montreal.

"If the girl is in the honeymoon phase and is in love with her pimp, it's hard for her to get out of the situation. But at least she will be aware of the cycle and will be able to get out when she feels ready to. She will at least know what doors to knock on when she wants to get out."

Selling the dream

Larizza agrees pimps often do a good job of selling the dream.

"They give you lots of attention that maybe you haven't had, they may buy you nice things."

Experts are calling for better resources for women, such as a place "where women could come and get drug addiction-related support, psychological support, health services – all in one place," says Legault-Roy.

Until then, the father of one of the missing girls who was found safe and sound wants the government to ensure youth protection homes are as safe as possible.

On Monday, youth advocates called for a public inquiry into the Laval group home.

"There's a lot of work that has to be done," said the father, who cannot be identified because his daughter has been found and is back in youth protection.

"I'm hopeful that there are going be changes made, and we're going to be able to secure our children in the youth home."

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