Skip to content
May 15, 2013 / Man in the Mirror

The Police, social agencies tackle human trafficking in Waterloo Region

Dianne Wood, Record staff

WATERLOO REGION — A police officer has been assigned full-time in Waterloo Region to investigate the human trafficking and sexual exploitation of young girls and women.

The growing realization that human trafficking occurs here has also prompted social agencies to band together to support victims.

“We’re identifying lots of victims,” said Waterloo Regional Police Const. Graham Hawkins, who was moved to the intelligence branch in January to focus on human trafficking. “These folks need a lot of help.”

A conference in Kitchener Thursday will address the trauma experienced by trafficked women who often form close bonds with their pimps in a phenomenon known as Stockholm syndrome.

Called Understanding Survivors of Human Trafficking, the conference was organized by the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.

Speaker Jacqui Linder, a psychologist and founder of the Chrysalis Anti-Trafficking Human Network, will talk about post traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues affecting trafficked women.

“The trauma is mind-boggling. For them, there’s no hope,” said Karen Taylor-Harrison, a Kitchener woman who belongs to a local coalition formed in January to act as crisis responders for rescued women.

Young women are lured into prostitution against their will and forced to service men, Taylor-Harrison said.

“There are individuals who prey on very fragile young women, who promise one thing and … and take them to another jurisdiction with the sole purpose of forcing them into the sex trade,” she said.

Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purpose of exploitation, usually in the sex trade or forced labour. According to Manitoba MP Joy Smith, a well-known Canadian anti human trafficking activist, it’s the fastest growing and second most lucrative criminal enterprise globally.

When many people think of human trafficking, they often think of Eastern European women who are duped into coming to North America.

But since 2005 when the Canadian criminal code added human trafficking as an offence, it’s been the term used for forced prostitution and pimp-controlled prostitution, said Jennifer Lucking, a front-line worker with Walk With Me, a Hamilton-based organization that reaches out to trafficked victims and runs workshops. Before that, pimps were convicted of living off the avails of prostitution.

Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran, who is master of ceremonies for the conference, feels the public must become more aware of human trafficking.

“We need to make this an issue. These are our youth,” Halloran said. “We need to protect our most vulnerable people from predators.”

There’s a difference between women who choose prostitution and those who are trafficked, said Sara Casselman, public relations and operations manager of the sexual assault support centre.

Women who are trafficked are forced into prostituting themselves, she said. Trafficking involves the use of coercion, abduction, fraud, deception or the abuse of power.

Often, the women don’t even know something illegal is happening to them because the pimps are so successful at psychological manipulation, Casselman said.

“They’re not always grasping their own situation. They think this guy is their boyfriend.”

Pimps groom their victims in much the same way as pedophiles groom children, Linder said. The pimp — often a handsome, older man with an expensive car — lures a young girl by telling her she’s beautiful and buying her gifts.

She thinks she’s falling in love. He then tells her she has to pay him back for everything he bought her. She has to work it off.

She may be addicted to drugs by then. Or he may have taken sexually explicit videos of her that he threatens to make public.

Police became more aware of human trafficking in Waterloo Region after Hawkins heard a former victim, Timea Nagy, speak at the Ontario Police College in 2010 and started investigating. “It opened our eyes to what was going on,” Hawkins said. “We had an idea it was probably going on and started looking into it here. We started to see there were issues.’’

He’s worked with police across Ontario to uncover cases and help rescue women.

He’s been involved in a number of local investigations, although there have been no convictions yet. One charge was laid, but it was dropped.

Waterloo Region Police Chief Matt Torigian said the information Hawkins gathered led him to believe, “This, in fact, is a problem in our community.

“We realized often there are women who are being trafficked for the purposes of prostitution. This was something that required full-time attention.”

Much of the trafficking in Waterloo Region goes on in hotels and motels along the Highway 401 corridor, Hawkins said.

Girls are brought in from other cities and kept for several days before they’re moved to another city. Men who want to buy sex monitor websites, such as the classified advertising website, that list the location of hotels women are taken to.

Hawkins said victims range in age from 12 to 22.

Const Jim Zucchero, who investigates human trafficking for Peel OPP, said pimps use Highway 401 and the QEW to move women from Windsor up through Montreal.

“Movement is key with these individuals. It helps them avoid detection,” he said.

He’s had investigations involving women being trafficked in Kitchener.

Local police are developing relationships with the managers of hotels and motels, Hawkins said.

“We’ve identified teenage girls who’ve been here,” he said. “Most hotels are very co-operative. They don’t want this kind of business.”

Last year, Cambridge officers answering a disturbance call found a 17-year-old girl working as an escort in a local hotel, Hawkins said.

She was a ward of Family and Children’s Services missing from a group home in another city. Police arrested her on outstanding warrants and sent her home.

They learned she had been posting on the internet as an escort all summer in cities across southwestern Ontario. She was a witness in an ongoing human trafficking investigation being done by police in another city.

“The primary concern was to offer (her) victim support,” Hawkins said.

He doesn’t have local statistics on human trafficking cases. It often takes time for police to build a case, he said.

Officers talk to young women in hotels, but they’re usually reluctant to come forward, Hawkins said. Police tell them about community agencies that can help them.

“We’re planting a seed,” Hawkins said. “Sometimes, it might be months or years …”

In one recent case, it took two years before the woman would talk to police.

Many women are too frightened to testify against their pimps. Police don’t push, Hawkins said.

Their controllers can be extremely dangerous, said Marty Van Doren, RCMP Human Trafficking Awareness Coordinator for Ontario.

“You wouldn’t believe the abuse that goes on in the sex trafficking world,” he said. “The pimps beat them very badly.”

In Peel Region, a pimp killed a 15-year-old girl’s dog and threatened to kill her brother.

More local agencies are being trained since the Kitchener human trafficking coalition started in January.

“It’s a grassroots, community-led initiative,” Hawkins said.

Members so far include probation and parole, regional police, Kitchener RCMP, the Wilfrid Laurier University school of social work, the Mill-Courtland Community Centre and the Kitchener victims services office.

Lucking thinks more agencies need to learn about the issue.

Teachers, emergency nurses, youth workers, counsellors, anyone working with the homeless, refugees and newcomers, “should be aware what human trafficking looks like in Canada,” Lucking said.

“What’s going on in K-W is not unlike what’s going on in every major urban centre in Ontario and across Canada.

“Those on the front lines of hospitals really need to know what to look for,” she said. “They need to know how to engage with victims away from whoever they’re with.”

For information about the conference, call 519-571-0121 or email



Leave a Comment
  1. Meredith Spears / May 17 2013 9:19 pm

    The report also hopes to tackle one of the myths associated with human trafficking, namely that it is an international crime overwhelmingly affecting women and children. Of the 2,077 potential victims of modern slavery identified by the UK Human Trafficking Centre in 2011, 40% were men.

  2. Graciela T. Mcneil / May 22 2013 12:18 am

    We are here to assist you with research requests or inquiries about human trafficking. Click here to contact us !

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: