It took only seconds after arriving in Vancouver for a young Williams Lake woman to become caught up in the sex trade, said Const. Sharon Peters with the RCMP detachment in Williams Lake.
“She met someone online who sent her a bus ticket and she was on her way,” Peters told people gathered for an information session on human trafficking at Thompson Rivers University in Williams Lake earlier this month.
“I saw her recently back in town visiting, asked her how she was doing, and she said prostitution is paying her bills.”
Social media is one of the biggest challenges facing the battle against sexual exploitation, Peters said.
You only have to check internet sites to find women in the Cariboo are being sexually exploited, added Cpl. Jassy Bindra, the RCMP’s human trafficking co-ordinator for B.C. and Yukon.
“Key indicators for human trafficking and forced prostitution are words such as ‘new to town, in town for a short time and leaving soon,’” Bindra said, noting often photographs accompanying the ads do not show the girls’ faces because they are under age.
Instead the ads include provocative body shots.
When Peters joined the RCMP she was already very passionate about fighting human trafficking after working with an organization dedicated to helping women.
About a year ago, Peters helped with a high profile case in Williams Lake where the police liaised with the Salvation Army.
“The Salvation Army were a big help,” Peters said. “They are the number one resource I will turn to when I find out a girl needs help right now.”
In that case, the RCMP pulled the girl out of her living situation, booked her into a hotel where she had someone with her at all times, until they were able to organize transportation for her to go to a detox facility in Alberta.
“Here in town the crack is out of control,” Peters said, noting addiction and prostitution go hand in hand.
Once a woman is addicted to drugs she needs to earn money to pay for them.
And even if she is being pimped, it’s hard for the police to charge her exploiter because she’s prostituting to pay for her addiction, Bindra said.
So when the RCMP and Salvation Army help someone, the first thing they have to do is help the person sober up so they can go into a safe house.
Captains Ben and Isobel Lippers at the Salvation Army Corps in Williams Lake are connected with Deborah’s Gate, a Salvation Army program that runs safe houses for survivors of human trafficking.
“Human trafficking is something the Salvation Army has taken on world wide,” Ben said.
Presently Deborah’s Gate has safe houses in Toronto and Vancouver, but the locations are kept a secret.
Here in Williams Lake the Salvation Army’s Dina Kennedy also runs the Great Room for women who have been victims of human trafficking.
“We have three women on staff, and Isobel my wife at the army, so if a women comes to us who is experiencing abuse we have an arsenal of women for her to talk to,” he added.
Peters said often the police are not aware of situations unless the public comes forward as she encouraged the public to keep their eyes and ears open. Bindra also encouraged the community to be on the watch for people who may be getting abused by employers who are overworking and underpaying them.
“If you notice an employee is working in the same place seven days a week you may want to check in to see if they are OK,” Bindra said.