Sudbury

Saving the girl next door: proposed law aims to stop human trafficking hubs

Victims advocates say more young women are being forced into the sex trade here in the northeast. It's called human trafficking and it’s on the rise.

Law enforcement and victims' advocates applauding new bill, say that human trafficking often goes unseen

According to victims' advocates, girls as young as 14 are being forced into prostitution and traded through elaborate 'circuits' across the country. (Shutterstock)
Girls as young as eleven years old are being lured into the sex trade and moved around the province against their will. We heard more from Nicole St-Jean of Sudbury Area Victim Services. She works with victims of human trafficking in Sudbury. 8:28

Victims advocates say more young women are being forced into the sex trade here in the northeast.

It's called human trafficking and it's on the rise.

According to police, lawmakers, and victims' advocates, Sudbury is a hub where girls as young as fourteen are being tricked into prostitution, moved around the province, and forced to have sex against their will.

The victims rack up debt to their pimps for drugs and hotel rooms, and are forced to have sex multiple times a night to pay it off.

'Saving the Girl Next Door' bill aims to help victims bring pimps to justice

A bill proposed by Conservative MPP Laurie Scott hopes to make it easier for victims of human trafficking to get restraining orders against their abusers and sue their pimps for damages.

The bill, named the 'Saving the Girl Next Door Act,' would allow for the enforcement of protection orders on behalf of victims against traffickers.

Victims are often kept drugged, trapped, and forced to have sex with clients many times a day. (Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists)
The proposed law would also allows victims to seek compensation and to include trafficking as a sexual offence under the age of 18.

Nicole St-Jean, program coordinator at Sudbury and Area Victims Services, said girls can end up in trafficking at an early age, and there is no clear pattern who falls victim.

"It's literally the girl next door. It could be the girl working at Tim Hortons, at Wal-Mart," St-Jean said. 

"They're coming from all walks of life. There doesn't seem to be a basis on race or culture. It's just young girls, girls as young as 14."

Social media plays integral, dangerous role in recruitment

Social media also plays a factor in recruitment, St.-Jean said.

"We're seeing a lot of these girls being recruited through social media, getting friend requests from people they don't know," St-Jean said, adding that girls also get recruited through other friends.

"As a pimp is recruiting, he'll typically bring the girls out of town for a weekend and then they don't come back. So they're being trafficked through a circuit."

PC women's critic Laurie Scott hopes her 'saving the girl next door' bill lets victims of human trafficking bring their captors to justice. (lauriescottmpp.com)
But convicting pimps is near impossible because many of the girls have no evidence to prove what's happened to them, St-Jean said.

Compounding the problem is the traffickers' move the girls around.

"They're being held against their will in various hotels, motels, being supplied with a constant stream of drugs. They're shuffled in the middle of the night from one city to another," St-Jean said.

A new law is fine, says Victims' Services, but we need more enforcement

Scott's proposed law aims to provide victims with the means to prevent further contact with their pimps, but not everyone believes it will be sufficient to stem the tide of trafficking.

Sudbury Victims Services' executive director Erica-Lynn Gertz said it's a step in the right direction, but one major hurdle still is convincing the public that trafficking is happening in their own community.

"We can pass all the laws we want," Gertz said, "but we have to have some way to uphold them."

Scott's proposed bill has passed its second reading, and is currently before the standing committee on justice policy. Private members' public bills rarely receive Royal Assent and become law. 

with files from Marina von Stackelberg. Edited/packaged by Casey Stranges