After finding out just how prevalent human trafficking is in London, the Police Chief is leading the charge to decriminalize women involved in the sex trade.
Brad Duncan will be trying to drum up support at the upcoming meeting of the Ontario Chiefs of Police, for the so-called “Nordic Model”.
It’s a system that punishes pimps and johns, while legally decriminalizing prostituted women and helping them leave the sex trade for good.
London Police launched a pilot project last June, to investigate the source of human trafficking and develop strategies to deal with it.
Constable Jackie Henry delivered the disturbing results Wednesday, in a presentation to the Police Services Board.
“A lot of it has surprised me,” said Constable Henry. “At one point in time, there was a girl in one of the high schools trying to recruit women. Also, the prevalence on Facebook, with men trying to recruit women on Facebook simply by messaging a young woman who may appear vulnerable or who has a low self esteem.”
They won’t reveal which London high school the 18-year-old was found recruiting in, saying it could happen anywhere.
However, in that case, no charges were laid since no one came forward to cooperate with Police.
“The most difficult of our job is getting these women to come forward and give us a statement to lay charges on these men because they are being exploited,” said Constable Henry. “They fear retaliation from their trafficker, so that’s the most difficult part is building a rapport with these women, and getting them to come forward, and give us a statement.”
Since launching the pilot project, Police have interacted with around 130 individuals who are involved in trafficking, with at least 10 women as young as 16-years-old.
According to Police, traffickers usually target girls and women between the ages of 14 and 24 years old.
The results have convinced Chief Brad Duncan that the Nordic Model is needed. He’ll be making a presentation to the leaders of other law enforcement agencies later this month to adopt it.
“My position is fundamentally, we should not be using the criminal code in order to arrest and get help for these women,” said Chief Duncan. “I prefer a Nordic model base where we still criminalize the johns, because that’s really where the trade is stimulated from, and we look at assisting these women because I can tell you that 95%, 98% or even higher choose not to be there, but they’re caught in the cycle, and we have to do something.”
Through the pilot project, Police discovered that once women are sucked into the sex trade, they’re sometimes forced to work all along the 401 corridor.
“It’s not localized,” added Chief Duncan. “We have women who will be in Durham one night, they’ll be in Guelph another night, Waterloo another night, Windsor.”
Social media, including Facebook, has helped fuel the business. During Wednesday’s presentation, Constable Henry presented website screen-shots of 16-year-old girls advertising sexual services in London.
“I think it was really clear when they talked about the websites that say they’re available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” said Chief Duncan. “Who would ever engage in work that would be 24/7? That tells me that availability means they’re not controlling their work. I’m really reluctant to use the word ‘work’, because ‘work’ would indicate that you do so by choice, that you’re looking at some fair remuneration, that’s not occurring here.”
The Nordic model has long been supported by the London Abused Women’s Centre, who also believe completely decriminalizing prostitution would leave women unprotected against exploitation.