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Most stories about human trafficking that make it into the headlines in Canada involve women from other countries being brought here and forced into sex work, but those who work with trafficking victims in this country say the majority are, in fact, Canadian-born teenage girls. Vanessa, 18, is one of them.
She was a typical high school student in Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto, until two years ago, when she fell in with a new boy who enrolled at her school. I was the one that was, I guess, vulnerable," said Vanessa, who is using a pseudonym to protect her identity. He always kinda told me what to do, and I would do it. One day, a car showed up with two men in it whom she didn't know. Her friend asked her to get in, and she did.
As they drove to a motel on a strip of Dundas Street East in Mississauga, one of the men told her she could make a lot of money doing sex work. Vanessa said she was unsure and scared but felt pressured to go along with it because the two men were friends of the boy she knew.
Toronto-area teenager recounts how she was recruited into sex work by peers at 16
It was kind of part of me wanting to do it and see if I could get something better, and then a bigger part was that I was already there and I can't really say no anymore. Peel Regional Police say 60 per cent of all reported human trafficking cases in Canada occur in the densely populated Greater Toronto Area. Girls are recruited in various ways — at school, on Instagram, at the mall.
Most continue to live at home while carrying out sex work at local motels or condominiums. According to police, human trafficking doesn't have to involve the crossing of a border. Any forced recruitment, confinement or transportation of a person for the purposes of exploitation falls under the Criminal Code definition of trafficking.
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Trafficking for sexual exploitation is just one form of the crime. Others include forced labour and domestic servitude. More than 90 per cent of the victims of sex trafficking within Canada come from Canada, according to government statistics .
Vanessa's story is typical, says Jennifer Keeler, a nurse practitioner at Chantel's Place, a sexual assault support centre in Mississauga. Traffickers know exactly what to say to manipulate girls, says Katarina MacLeod, a former prostitute and trafficking victim from the same area as Vanessa. The men who took Vanessa to the motel first took photos of her to use in for her services.
They gave her a cellphone and told her to use it to negotiate with her first client as they watched.
He didn't smell nice or anything," she said. But now, I realized how stupid that was. Unlike sex workers who have chosen the trade, trafficking victims rarely get to keep the money they bring in.
And they have little say over what sex acts they perform. For pimps who have multiple girls, the earnings are often divided among a team of traffickers, minus expenses for motels and the they take out to market the girls. For months, Vanessa would get picked up from school almost every day and be taken to hotels on the Dundas East strip to have sex with clients arranged by her pimp. She was still living at home.
InPeel police made 39 arrests and laid charges related to sex trafficking. In the first half ofaccording to their most recent statistics, they made 25 arrests and laid charges.
As recently as last week, Toronto police arrested two young men in connection with the trafficking of two teenage girls at Mississauga motels. And that's just a fraction of the problem, says Ontario's recently appointed anti-trafficking director, Jennifer Richardson.
Based on data she helped gather in Manitoba, she estimates the of trafficking victims in Ontario alone to be in the thousands. A former trafficking victim herselfRichardson says victims don't come forward for a variety of reasons, including fear or a dependent relationship with their pimp. Peel police established a Human Trafficking Service Providers Committee last year and have been working with local organizations to raise awareness and provide support to victims like Vanessa.
Anyone can be a victim," said Const. Joy Brown, who he up the committee. A few of the red-flag behaviours to watch out for in young girls, she said include: extended periods when whereabouts are unknown; sudden changes in routine; having more than one cellphone; receiving expensive gifts; extreme tiredness and unexplained absences from school.
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One of Vanessa's teachers recognized changes in her behaviour and connected her with a support program, which is how CBC News found her. Now, Vanessa is looking to get out. She says she won't come forward or testify against her pimp, who's now letting her keep some of the money she earns. I want to have money to live comfortably.
And then I plan to get out of it. Seema Marwaha is an internal medicine physician, journalist and health communications researcher. Toronto 'Anyone can be a victim': Canadian high school girls being lured into sex trade Most stories about human trafficking that make it into the headlines in Canada involve women from other countries being brought here and forced into sex work, but those who work with trafficking victims in this country say the majority are, in fact, Canadian-born girls, some as young as Social Sharing.
Corrections A version of this story erroneously said Vanessa was In fact, she is Seema Marwaha. Related Stories Hotline to report human trafficking in Canada in the works Amanda McGee sentenced to 8 years for human trafficking, sexual assault.