Agency lauds human-traffic sweep, wants johns named
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 SaundraLynn 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.