Elsipogtog woman blames Moncton sex traffickers for sister's death
Young women and girls being forced into sex trade 'more prevalent than we know' in New Brunswick
Kayla Peters knows that to many, the story of what led her older sister to take her own life will sound unbelievable.
"I don't even believe myself," Peters said. "I thought this whole human trafficking was far-fetched, like it wouldn't happen in my family or in my area."
But the 25-year-old from Elsipogtog First Nation believes her sister, Tiffany Peters, took her life on Sept. 21 because she was a victim of human trafficking and couldn't see any way out.
"They threatened my sister to sell her to a new guy in a new city — that's where I clicked with human trafficking," Kayla said of the stories her sister told her of the group of men who controlled her for the year leading up to her death.
"I believed her when she told me these bad guys from Moncton threatened to hurt her and her children."
She even went to the cops, and they told her that it was the drugs, and that she's paranoid and she should go see a therapist.- Kayla Peters, Tiffany Peters's sister
"She told me they threatened her before, they beat her up before, they raped her before and she still … didn't want to do what they asked and then one day, they threatened her children."
'She got in trouble with some bad people'
Tiffany started spending more and more time in Moncton, about 90 kilometres south of Elsipogtog, a few years earlier.
Kayla said her sister told her she was forced into "selling herself" because she owed a group of men money for drugs and they had "sex videos" of her that they threatened to show her family.
Kayla said her sister experimented with drugs as a teenager but didn't get into "heavy stuff" until about five years ago, when she left her boyfriend and her children.
Watch as Kayla Peters describes the pain of losing her sister Tiffany and who she blames for her death. Warning strong language used.
"As soon as she didn't have her kids in her life anymore, she just spiralled downhill right hard. And she couldn't stand it and she'd just go back to drugs."
In the last few months, Tiffany had been trying to find a way out and was on a waiting list for a rehab bed.
"Tiffany told me that she got in trouble with some bad people, and she owed money last year, and then this year I think that's what made her want to get out. It scared her — like these are bad people and [she] wanted to get out, sober up and she wanted her kids back."
Victims feel they have 'no way out'
Barbara Gosse, the chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre to End Human Trafficking, said Kayla's story of what happened to her sister isn't at all far-fetched.
"When you're thinking of human trafficking, you need to understand that it's the forced prostitution of someone — not someone who is by choice in the the sex industry," Gosse said.
Human trafficking involves the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of a person for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labour.
"Traffickers control their victims by using force, or threats or emotional abuse, and sometimes they will threaten the families of these victims as well," Gosse said.
"They are also told lies by the traffickers — that their families don't want them back."
'More prevalent than we know'
Kayla said Tiffany, who was a "known drug addict," hid at her home in Elsipogtog on several occasions, and Kayla urged her to go to the police to report what was happening.
"She even went to the cops, and they told her that it was the drugs, and that she's paranoid and she should go see a therapist," Kayla said.
Gosse said victims of human trafficking often don't get the help they need when they go to police or other frontline workers.
"Usually, the victims have experienced such trauma, that it's hard for them to articulate their situations in a way that someone who is not trained [could understand.]"
Gosse wants every police officer and emergency responder to be trained in the best ways to respond to incidents of human trafficking and on how trauma affects the victims.
"If you sit down with law enforcement and frontline service providers, even those in New Brunswick, they will tell you this is happening and it's more prevalent than we know."
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Gosse said there is a misconception that human trafficking in Canada involves women and girls from outside the country, but studies have found more than 90 per cent of the victims in Canada were born here.
"If you have a highway that runs through your community, you are vulnerable to human trafficking."
Saw no other choice
After reading her suicide note, Kayla is convinced her sister was being drugged and couldn't see a way to escape the people who were forcing her to "sell herself" with constant threats and physical and emotional abuse.
"In her suicide note she asked for a [toxicology] screen, like a drug test, because in her suicide note, that's where she mentions she got raped and they forced her to watch it."
Gosse said victims of human trafficking face a constant cycle of extreme violence that often includes threats of releasing videos and photos.
"It's really, really horrific," she said. "Many of them are subjected to drugs as well. They're fed drugs by the traffickers so the traffickers can control them."
Traffickers follow script
Speaking about the coercion and luring of young women, Gosse referred to the pimps who recruit them as "boyfriend pimps" because they will pretend to be a boyfriend for a short time.
"They will basically lure the individual into a relationship and will buy them gifts and shower them with praise and shower them with compliments to make them feel special."
Women already struggling with addiction, poverty or difficult family relationships are particularly vulnerable to these men, Gosse said.
I need to know what the hell happened to my sister. What kind of a drug addict kills themselves on welfare day with money in their pocket?- Kayla Peters, sister of Tiffany Peters
It usually takes between two days and two weeks for these "boyfriend pimps" to demand their victims start working for them in the sex industry to pay off their "debts," she said.
"Police have actually told us, sometimes it only takes two days before they will turn on them and tell them, 'You now owe me for that purse, you now owe me for the clothes I bought you, you now owe me rent because I provided you with shelter.'"
Kayla said Tiffany told her that at one point she was so worried that her captors would go to Elsipogtog and hurt Kayla, that she tried to bargain with them.
"She told me she sold herself for a month straight, every day," Kayla said. "My sister made sure she paid off those people."
Sister demands answers
Kayla called the day she found out her sister was gone the worst day of her life.
Through tears, she said she couldn't bring herself to go to Tiffany's funeral and could only stay for three minutes at the wake.
"It feels like the girl inside of me is gone" Kayla said. "She's the only sister I had, and they took her from me. For what? For money — and Aboriginal women are so easy to prey on, it's, like, not even a joke."
Kayla fears that speaking out could put her life in danger, but she also wants people to know what happened to her sister.
"I just remind them that my sister is part of the missing and murdered Indigenous women. I say murdered, even though my sister committed suicide, because technically it's murder to drive someone to suicide, to make them feel like they had no choice.
"I need to know what the hell happened to my sister. What kind of a drug addict kills themselves on welfare day with money in their pocket?"
Kayla hopes RCMP are investigating what she believes is a clear case of human trafficking.
"My sister didn't take her life on her terms. She was forced to because she felt like it was the only way to keep her family safe."
RCMP report 19 complaints in past decade
New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Cpl. Jullie Rogers-Marsh, of the RCMP, can't comment on the death of Tiffany Peters.
She would only confirm that police responded to the sudden death of a 28-year-old woman from Elsipogtog on Sept. 21 and that it is under investigation.
Rogers-Marsh said RCMP are awaiting results of an autopsy but don't have a timeline on when that report will be complete.
RCMP in New Brunswick have opened 19 files related to human trafficking in the past 10 years, according to Rogers-Marsh.
She said it is not something that police commonly see but "it certainly does" exist.
"This is a very serious crime and we take these complaints very seriously," Rogers-Marsh said. "We would encourage anybody that would have information or suspects illegal activity related to human trafficking to come forward and provide that information."
Rogers-March said some of the 19 complaints between 2008 and 2018 have related to prostitution while others were about immigrants being forced to do work.
With files from Oscar Baker III