By Mallory Clarkson/London Community News
From being prostituted out of a trailer in Mississauga to witnessing two groups negotiate the sale of a woman outside of her Toronto home, Dee Holman knows the ins and outs of the sex trafficking industry.
Holman said a crack addiction brought her into a precarious position where she said her drug dealers may have well as been her pimps “because every cent went to them.”
Struggling with that and falling in and out of homelessness, Holman said she experienced a couple of scenarios that flirted with the definition of trafficking.
One situation in particular involving Holman, her partner and what turned out to be a pimp who promised to get them off the streets.
“What he did was he put us in this huge mobile home, drove us to his house out in Mississauga from Jane Street in Toronto and then he ended up pimping us out,” Holman said. “We were living on his driveway in a residential area and he had clients signed up for us.”
Holman said she and her partner were expected to service ‘Johns’ in order to keep a roof over their heads. By threatening to scream or tell the neighbours, Holman said she and her partner escaped from the situation.
That was one experience of many, Holman said, adding she’s now sober, helping others and sharing her story.
“I think it’s to bridge the gap of fear and ignorance for people that have no idea that it surrounds us,” Holman said when asked why she felt telling others about her experiences was important.
Holman will be one of the people speaking at the One Voice One Hope human trafficking seminar later this month. Hosted by the London Anti-Human Trafficking Committee (LAHT), the two-day seminar is being held at the Salvation Army London Citadel (555 Springbank Dr.) where the hidden criminal activity will be discussed.
Human trafficking is currently the fastest growing criminal activity in the world. It can involve both the illegal labour and sex trade industries, both of which will be touched on during the event.
Stan Burditt, a member of both the LAHT and the Men Against Sexual Trafficking, said there are more cases of the latter category in Canada.
“I would say that at least 80 per cent of the cases (involving sex trafficking) that are before the courts now involve our own Canadian girls,” Burditt said. “It’s our own girls being recruited in high schools and trapped.
“We have a number of women who are in the city who are recovering now.”
Sex trafficking victims from Canada predominately hail from Ontario, Nova Scotia, Manitoba and Quebec. They are mainly recruited between the ages of 14-25.
The LAHT is a not-for-profit group that addresses human trafficking in the area through education and advocacy.
With an investment of nearly $2 million over three years the province rolled out a co-ordinated, multi-pronged approach to combat human trafficking last February.
The program’s initiatives focused on prevention, enforcement and support for victims, including a 24-7 crisis hotline, additional supports for involved emergency service providers and community agencies. Financial support for projects driven by local police services to fight human trafficking in their communities was also given.
While local, provincial and national efforts are being done to make the public more aware of the criminal industry, it continues to remain hidden from the public eye.
According to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), as of Nov. 15, 2009, 33 individuals were charged with human trafficking. Of that number, only five were convicted. For the remainder, charges were either dropped or acquitted for some, and others were found guilty of other charges like aggravated sexual assault and forcible confinement.
That information was released in a document issued March 2010, called the Human Trafficking in Canada Report, which noted there aren’t many available facts and statistics regarding human trafficking, but the numbers are becoming more apparent.
“Across Canada, law enforcement is experiencing a progression in the understanding of human trafficking,” the report stated. “In addition to an increase in the number of human trafficking cases investigated in recent years, awareness efforts have also increased in order to establish the appropriate mindset and provide the right tools to recognize, investigate and procure human trafficking.”
This is the most current information the RCMP is releasing at this time.
London follows the national trend in that there aren’t many numbers to share. Const. Anthea Fordyce, a spokesperson with the London Police Service, said she searched the department’s records and only found one reported occurrence of trafficking since 2000, but no charges were laid.
“There was an allegation made that was unfounded and unsubstantiated, so basically (there were) no grounds for a criminal charge of human trafficking,” Fordyce said of the alleged October 2011 occurrence.
But just because the department doesn’t have any founded investigations whereby charges have been laid, that doesn’t mean human trafficking doesn’t happen in London, she said.
“It’s an underground world, I’m sure, it’s incredible to believe there is no current investigation,” said the constable.
Fordyce noted she will be one of the many participants attending the event later this month.
While many cases of sex trafficking involve Canadians, victims of labour trafficking are usually imported into the country, Burditt said.
“What happens is they come (into Canada) with the promise of something and as soon as they arrive, their documentation is taken away from them,” Burditt said, adding the victims are then at the mercy of the traffickers. “They’re in a strange country, sometimes they don’t know the language and they don’t have any papers to prove who they are.”
While there are many ways community organizations — like the LAHT — are working to spread awareness, one Ottawa-based organization is tapping into an unused resource to combat the problem through a new project.
Persons Against the Crime of Trafficking in Humans (PACT)-Ottawa is rolling out a campaign called TruckSTOP in the near future. The program will target Canadian truck drivers and members of the public who frequent truck stops to garner information about suspected human trafficking incidents on roadways.
Funded in part by Public Safety Canada, Kim Howson, project co-ordinator of the TruckSTOP Campaign, said this program was modelled after similar ones south of the boarded, like Truckers Against Trafficking.
“They developed wallet cards and a training DVD and they started distributing this through different trucking networks and at truck stops themselves,” Howson said.
She shared one of the success stories coming from the U.S., which started as a simple 911 call and ended with the shutdown of a 13-state trafficking ring.
“His (the truck driver’s) tip led to the rescue of two underage girls who had been kidnapped and forced into the sex trade, as well as seven other minors engaged in underage prostitution and then it led to the arrest of 31 traffickers,” she said. “All of this came out of one tip, so we really see truck drivers as an untapped resource and a really important ally in the fight against human trafficking.”
She said drivers are the eyes and ears of the road and may be privy to or witness situations of trafficking without even knowing it, which is why the campaign has an educational component to it.
“Part of our campaign is focused around providing them with knowledge about trafficking, but also concrete indicators they can look for to identify situations and alert the appropriate authorities,” she said.
For more information on the TruckSTOP Campaign, click here.
Information about that program will also be distributed during the One Voice One Hope seminar.
Burditt that’s just a fraction of information that will be presented throughout the two-day event. He said many speakers including Winnipeg-based MP Joy Smith, police officers and community members from anti-trafficking organizations will share their experiences and information on the subject.
The first day (Mar. 30) of the One Voice One Hope seminar is a professional development day, with an 8:30 a.m. registration and $50 fee for adults and $25 for students or seniors. The awareness day (Mar. 31) is free, with registration beginning at 8:30 a.m.
For more information or to register, contact Aura — Burditt’s wife — by phone at 519-432-9553 ext. 5 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.