LONDON, Ont. – Arrests in recent years for human trafficking have made for exciting front page headlines. The withdrawal of charges have happened without notice.
The low success rate in human trafficking charges is raising questions about the way those laws are being applied.
“It is really tricky. There are a lot of grey areas,” said Karlee Anne Sapoznik, head of the Alliance Against Modern Slavery, a Canadian non-profit advocacy group. “If you look at the difference between Canada and the United States, it’s quite shocking the success rates for convictions for trafficking.”
Police and the Crown have two forms of legislation to jail people who exploit others to sell sex: prostitution and trafficking laws.
The jury remains out on its effectiveness and necessity of Canada’s new prostitution law that came out last weekend.
The country’s trafficking laws were beefed up in 2005 and with a push from women’s advocates, police began several years ago to use the laws to target homegrown pimping and sex-trade rings.
But it’s difficult to put traffickers behind bars in Canada because of a lack of police resources and judges who aren’t aware of the subtleties of sex trafficking, Sapoznik said.
Women are often lured into prostitution over time by men pretending to be boyfriends, not even recognizing at first they are victims, Sapoznik notes.
At some point, the women realize the relationship has turned from what they thought was consensual and equal to being forced provide sex for money and shipped from city to city, she said.
By the time a woman gains the resolve to leave, she may be traumatized after years of being a slave.
The trauma can make a victim a less than ideal witness in a courtroom, and there can be difficulty in pinpointing when exactly she became an unwilling prostitute.
“There is a lack of training with judges on what human trafficking looks like so they understand the key aspects of the situation,” Sapoznik said.
The seriousness of the crime itself presents a challenge to police and prosecutors.
“Human trafficking charges are more serious in nature. They have a higher threshold in prosecution and higher penalties,” said Det. Sgt. Peter Casey of the York Regional police drugs and vice unit.
By comparison, prosecutors can prove a pimp is living off the avails of prostitution with evidence of renting several hotel rooms and keeping large amounts of cash on hand, Casey said.
“It’s very difficult to prove human trafficking cases without the victim’s co-operation and full details in terms of everything that has occurred,” he said. “Victims are under huge duress.”
The RCMP’s 2013 report on domestic sex trafficking notes that in many cases across Canada, prosecutors drop specific human trafficking charges because the victim won’t co-operate.
Police will often find young women in motel rooms, whom they suspect are victims of human trafficking, but they can’t force the women to report a crime, Const. Ken Steeves said.
They only hope the more often someone goes to jail on charges from human trafficking, even if it’s not on specific human trafficking charges, more victims will come forward.
BY THE NUMBERS
112: specific human trafficking charges for sex trade within Canada, as of February 2013 (RCMP)
35: specific human trafficking convictions from 2005 to 2013
126: number of victims involved
9: under age of 18
1 day to nine years: sentences handed out
80: cases before courts as of 2013
Source: Toronto Sun