Windsor

Sex trafficking spiking in London, Ont.

London is seeing a spike in johns moving women between highway hotels, said Det. Michael Hay, leader of a newly created unit dedicated to helping women who are being forced to sell sex.

Police say at least 25 per cent of sex trade workers are victims of trafficking

An undercover member of the London Police human trafficking unit speaks before the London Police Services board on Thursday Jan. 19. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

Officials working to stop sex trafficking along the 401 corridor between Windsor and Toronto have noticed a "shocking" spike in the number of women and girls being trafficked out of London, Ont.

London is a middleground for johns moving women between highway hotels, said Det. Michael Hay, leader of London Police Service's newly created unit dedicated to helping women who are being forced to sell sex.

"I think it's a huge issue," he said. "On any given day there are probably 90 sex trade workers working as escorts in London. I would estimate at least 25 per cent of them are being trafficked."

One of the biggest struggles the team faces is finding the women to help them escape, said Hay.

In many cases they don't want to work with police, or can't.

"Most of them, because of a trauma bond they have with their abuser, have a great difficulty opening up and telling us what's going on," he explained.

That difficulty is made worse by the fact that johns often text message using apps that hide their phone number and are impossible to trace.

"There are a lot of victims in London right now.," Hay said. "We are going to do everything we can to help everyone we can, but I think we're just scraping the surface." 

Average entry age is 13

Over the past 17 months the the London Abused Women's Centre served 490 women and girls, 159 of which were involved in human trafficking, said Megan Walker, the organization's director.

The average age of someone who enters the sex trade is 13, added Walker.

"The majority of them are anywhere in Ontario you can get to from the 400-series highways," she said, adding the number of women served by the centre is higher than ever before.

"We've never seen anything like this... it's never been like this."

Help first, arrest later

According to Det. Michael Hay, his unit's primary goal is to help women and girls escape the sex trade and bring them somewhere they feel safe — laying charges is their second priority.

The team has "saved" seven people since October and December of last year, according to the team leader. In some cases the team is even receiving tips from independent sex workers already working in the trade, Hay added.

"We've done three john stings and charged 15 johns since October," he said. "As long as there's a market out there for it, there will be people in the sex trade who are being trafficked."

with files from Amanda Margison

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