Nova Scotia

Human trafficking in sex trade thriving in Nova Scotia, Mountie says

Human trafficking of young women, some in their early teens, as sex trade workers is a hidden epidemic in Nova Scotia, an RCMP officer on the front lines said Monday.

Communities need to step up and take responsibility for protecting vulnerable girls, says Cpl. David Lane

Owen Gibson-Skeir, 22, shown entering Halifax provincial court on Oct. 25, is serving seven years in prison for human trafficking. (CBC)

Human trafficking of young women, some in their early teens, as sex trade workers is a hidden epidemic in Nova Scotia, an RCMP officer on the front lines said Monday.

"People could have a daughter who's been recruited into the human trafficking sex trade and they wouldn't even realize it," said Cpl. David Lane of the RCMP human trafficking division.

The officer appeared Monday before the Halifax Board of Police Commissioners to talk about crime trends.

It's nearly impossible to find numbers to show whether there are more local girls being forced to work in the sex trade, Lane said.

Pimps look for young victims

But from what he sees first hand, Lane said the occurrence is still disturbing.

"It's hard to say exactly what it is right now, statistically, but the good thing is that people and police and community activists are getting together and they're identifying the problem. "

Prevention — communities protecting their vulnerable teenage girls — is important, he said.

Girls as young as 14 and 15 are often recruited by men, and in some cases, women. The offenders routinely hang around group homes in Dartmouth looking for vulnerable teenagers, Lane said.

The same people have also been successful in luring teenage girls from south-end Halifax as well as other parts of the province, using promises of nice clothes, a car or an apartment in downtown Toronto.

In many cases, Lane said, the traffickers follow through with their promise. The catch is, the young women and girls are forced into the sex trade — often pimped out up to 15 times per day.

"Every parent that I've sat down with says the exact same thing: 'The last thing she said before she left was, "He treated me like a princess."'"

'Golden Horseshoe'

Lane said girls are moved from Nova Scotia to the so-called "Golden Horseshoe" of Ontario: Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville and Hamilton.

There, victims are branded with tattoos and in some cases, their pimp fathers a child with them to create even more dependency.

Parents often are aware their daughters are in danger, but cling to hope they survive into their early- to mid-20s. That's about the time the pimps are less interested in them and allow them go home.

Leaving the sex trade any earlier typically requires a payment of $10,000, Lane said.

Fear of testifying against pimp

The difficulty laying charges of human trafficking is that only about one per cent of the girls who become victims will agree to turn on their pimps. They are often afraid, including for their family's safety back home. 

In some cases, they see the offender as their "boyfriend," Lane said.

There's little chance of conviction without the co-operation of the girl.

"In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to put the girl on the stand again and revictimize them. But it is an important part of the case."