Pimps target teens at Montreal malls
Montreal police warning parents to watch for warning signs
Montreal police are warning parents that pimps are hanging around Montreal-area shopping centres, trying to lure teens into prostitution.
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Police say pimps are using strategies that manipulate victims into thinking it's their own choice, then trapping those victims into a cycle of violence.
Pimps are targeting malls, schools, youth centres, metro stations and bus terminals, said Montreal police officer Josée Mensales, who co-created the Survivors program, focused on sexual exploitation.
Mensales said a pimp will often approach teen after teen, using flattery and offering his phone number and eventually someone responds.
Teen recruited over several months
"Jennifer" — a woman whose identity CBC has agreed to protect — was at a Montreal-area mall when she met a person she thought was becoming a friend but instead turned out to be a pimp.
Jennifer says they were friends for several months before he convinced her to try working at a strip joint.
Throughout those months, he gradually introduced her to a life of luxury, buying her expensive meals and thousands of dollars' worth of clothes and shoes. She says he took her to strip joints to make her feel more comfortable in that environment.
"I think a lot of teenagers are attracted to money and fame and luxurious things....quick money. So basically (after seeing) all of this for months and months I was telling myself, 'oh it's not that bad, maybe I could try. I'll try one night and see if I like it,'" she said.
Jennifer says she realized she was in trouble when the man demanded she hand over the money after her first shift. The situation became violent and he would threaten to expose her life in the sex industry to her family.
"I didn't want my family to know so I was so scared and... there was a lot of stuff I was doing just for him not to go back to my family and tell them," she said.
Mensales says pimps often present the idea of stripping as temporary, when in reality, it is their way of forcing women into a life of sexual exploitation.
"The victim doesn't feel like she's being exploited at first. She feels like she's actually working for a common plan — buying a condo, buying a car, within a couple of months it's paid for, that's what these traffickers, these pimps are presenting to their victims," Mensales said.
Signs of Trouble
Signs of trouble include a change in behaviour, sudden access to expensive clothes and jewelry, new tattoos (pimps often "brand" their victims), and friends your teen seems to know by nickname only, said Montreal police officer Diane Veillette, who co-founded the Survivors program.
Montreal police advise that if you see signs of trouble, seek help but be careful about what you say to your teen.
"Never say anything negative about the pimps because the victim will reject (you) as a parent because she will think you are judging her. They will close the door," Veillette said.
Mensales and Veillette say parents needing help can contact their local police station to get in touch with the Survivors program, which can put them in touch with various resources that can provide support.
Talk to your teens
They also highly recommend keeping communication lines open with teens before a problem ever arises.
Discuss possible intentions strangers could have when they approach, possible ways the teen could answer, be clear that they can walk away if they do not feel safe, Mensales said. Also let them know they can call you at any time without judgment, she said.
Mensales also suggested to try to listen to the songs they're listening to, read out the lyrics, find out your teen's opinions about the messages in the music.
Jennifer says she's convinced her connection to her family — which she describes as a middle-class suburban family — helped her escape her situation.
When the violence got so bad that she feared for her life, Jennifer contacted police and filed a domestic abuse complaint. Her pimp eventually went to prison.
Now she is back in school and moving on with her life.
The fact that Jennifer came from a happy home, with two loving parents — both professionals — does not surprise Mensales.
"It doesnt mean because you're a professional... your child does very well at school — that means nothing. They potentially could be trapped into a situation like this one." she said.