The growing problem of girls as young as 12 or 13 forced into sex work by human traffickers needs to be tackled, Premier Kathleen Wynne says.
“This is an area that has not had enough attention,” Wynne said Monday in the wake of a legislative committee report recommending a task force of police to target human traffickers, whose methods were exposed in a hard-hitting weekend Toronto Star series.
“How are we not closing these gaps? How are these young women falling through the cracks and getting caught into a system that is just so horrific?”
“I don’t think it’s any one level of government,” she told reporters.
The all-party legislative committee said a more concerted effort to fight human trafficking should be modeled on the guns-and-gangs task force established after the tragic shooting of Jane Creba in front of a Yonge St. shoe store on Boxing Day 2005.
“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” said Progressive Conservative MPP Laurie Scott, vice-chair of the committee.
Police are “barely scratching the surface with the resources they’ve got. It needs a co-ordinated effort with dedicated resources.”
Policy-makers at all levels need to come up with solutions, added Wynne, whose administration has proposed legislation to clamp down on sexual violence and harassment in society.
“There is a drastic need for coordination of information and we need to look at this,” Wynne said, pledging to do “everything we can to be part of a solution to this problem.”
In the Star series, detectives and social workers estimate the number of girls being trafficked is in the thousands, and they are often locked in hotel rooms by their pimps and forced to have sex for money as many as 15 times a day.
Since 2013, Toronto police alone have handled 359 trafficking incidents and arrested 114 pimps.
Some victims have told of being refused food until they had sex with a quota of men.
Some are runaways, abandoned by parents. Some are foster children or recruited from group homes by men who manipulate them, pretending to be their boyfriend, then turning on them or getting them hooked on drugs. Others are from middle class homes.
“This is a Toronto problem, an Ontario problem and a Canada problem. Everyone thinks it’s not happening here, but it is,” Inspector Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, commander of the Toronto police sex crimes unit, told the Star’s Olivia Carville.
Scott, a nurse who has taken on the cause of human trafficking, said the victims “really are the girls next door,” contrary to the popular belief that human trafficking victims are from offshore.
Wynne said it’s too early to say if any actions by her government could be incorporated into her sexual violence bill, which would force employers to take harassment complaints more seriously and clear obstacles for victims taking legal action.