Agency lauds hu­man-traf­fic sweep, wants johns named

The Chatham Daily News - - NEWS - [email protected]­media.com twit­ter.com/JuhaatLFPress JONATHAN JUHA

A Lon­don women’s group is prais­ing po­lice for a re­cent hu­mantraf­fick­ing op­er­a­tion that saw 25 men charged, but says the ac­cused must be named pub­licly to cut de­mand for sex ser­vices.

“It is re­ally good that they have laid those charges against these johns be­cause it sends the mes­sage that this is a crime,” said Saun­dra-Lynn Coul­ter, pro­ject co-or­di­na­tor with the Lon­don Abused Women’s Cen­tre. “But . . . pub­licly re­leas­ing those names . . . is a re­ally pow­er­ful tool to try to ad­dress the de­mand . . . and if you re­duce de­mand this will lead to fewer women and girls be­ing ex­ploited.”

Lon­don po­lice an­nounced the charges Fri­day af­ter a six-week op­er­a­tion, Pro­ject Cir­cuit, in­volv­ing St. Thomas, Wood­stock and Strathroy-Caradoc po­lice, OPP and a mem­ber of the Min­istry of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral.

Charges laid in­cluded ob­tain­ing sex­ual ser­vices for con­sid­er­a­tion, traf­fick­ing a per­son un­der age 18 and mis­lead­ing po­lice.

Dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, po­lice con­ducted sev­eral “john stings” af­ter post­ing an on­line ad for six days, draw­ing more than 9,000 views.

“This speaks to the vol­ume and the de­mand that is fu­elling the ex­ploita­tion of women in our com­mu­nity,” said Det. David Elly­att, head of the Lon­don po­lice hu­man traf­fick­ing unit.

But the city force isn’t con­sid­er­ing chang­ing its prac­tice of not nam­ing those ac­cused.

“Many of those charged with this of­fence end up go­ing through di­ver­sion pro­grams; they are ed­u­cated in the pit­falls of the sex-trade in­dus­try and they don’t ac­tu­ally end up with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, so be­cause of this op­tion that the ac­cused have, we de­cide not to re­lease the names,” Elly­att said.

Dur­ing the Oct. 16 to Nov. 23 op­er­a­tion, of­fi­cers also con­tacted 56 women and girls aged 16 to 41, in­clud­ing high school and post-sec­ondary stu­dents, po­lice said.

They were of­fered aid through po­lice vic­tim ser­vices and women’s groups, and back­packs with cloth­ing, toi­letries and gift cards to help them get home, Elly­att said.

“For those who freely choose to par­tic­i­pate in the sex trade, we wanted to make sure they had a safety plan and felt safe in our com­mu­nity,” he said. “For those we sus­pected were be­ing traf­ficked, of which there were many, we of­fered to help them es­cape . . . and we were able to fa­cil­i­tate the es­cape of two women.”

Such outreach is crit­i­cal, Coul­ter said. “It is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to reach out to these women and girls who have been sex­u­ally ex­ploited and traf­ficked, so they know there’s help and sup­port avail­able.”

Twenty-four of the 56 women and girls were from Lon­don, 11 were from the Greater Toronto Area, eight from smaller On­tario com­mu­ni­ties, seven from Que­bec and two from Hong Kong, po­lice said.

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