Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich is heading the request for a national strategy on human trafficking, calling for stronger penalties for johns and pimps, and more support for victims.
Rich is the representative on the issue for the B.C. Association of Police Chiefs (BCACP), which has sent a letter to Robert Nicholson, justice minister and attorney general of Canada, and Vic Toews, minister of public safety.
The association passed a resolution in November 2010, saying Canadian laws need to be “updated and widened in scope,” and more programs are needed to help victims who are trying to escape their traffickers.
Rich said he most became aware of the issue during his two years as a vice squad detective with the Vancouver Police Department.
He said he interviewed about 100 young women who were working in the sex trade and had come from traumatic backgrounds that made them more susceptible.
“In 90 per cent of the cases … someone in their past had sexually abused them, damaged their self-perception and made them more vulnerable.”
Rich said there are two common scenarios related to the issue of human trafficking.
One involves criminals using false documentation to bring women from other countries to work in Canada as prostitutes.
The women are often lured away under the pretense of work as a hairdresser or nanny, for example, but end up working in a body house.
The other scenario involves “gaming a girl” – the term used by pimps when they befriend a young woman, usually under the age of 16, who might be having home or social problems.
They shower her with gifts and affection, earning her trust, and then force her into prostitution.
Rich said many of the erotic ads seen online or in publications are from these types of situations. The women (or men) might appear to be willingly offering their services, but this is not the case. Most are underage.
He said although Abbotsford is not a “hub” for this activity, it happens everywhere.
“There are people in Abbotsford who are involved, I’m sure.”
Rich said the victims of human trafficking are trapped by threats to themselves or their families, physical abuse, and dependence on the traffickers.
This can make it difficult to prosecute the criminals, and there is not enough support to help victims escape and recover from their situations, he said.
He said attitudes need to change.
“We need to see the women who are selling sex as the victims and the customers as the true criminals.”
The BCACP has said it is “committed to this important issue and is prepared to provide whatever assistance is necessary to move it forward.”