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Police say woman was recruiting girls in local high school

London Free Press:

London police say many teenage girls — at least 10 of them as young as 16 years old — are being trafficked for sex at area hotels and motels. And police have investigated one report of a recruiter working in the hallways of a city high school.

During a presentation the police services board described as “scary,” officers with London’s human trafficking project presented four website screen-shots of 16-year-old girls advertising sexual services in London. They also said police have investigated reports of another teenager working as a recruiter.

“It was a younger woman about 18-years-old who was in the high school attempting to recruit young girls,” said Const. Jackie Henry, who delivered the presentation along with her colleague Const. Jim Pottruff. Police wouldn’t say which high school or which part of the city, noting it could happen anywhere. But they didn’t have enough evidence to charge anybody, she said, because “nobody came forward.”

“There isn’t a socio-economic status someone has, to be a victim of human trafficking; they really prey on women who have a low self-esteem. It doesn’t matter where you live, how much money you make or any of those things,” said Henry.

In all, officers have met 130 girls and women being exploited as sex slaves since the service began investigating the source of human trafficking, police said.

Among them, women aged 21 and 22 who look 35 and 40 because of their “terrible lifestyle,” said London Police Chief Brad Duncan, who plans to seek support for the so-called “Nordic Model” — which would legally decriminalize prostituted women and criminalize sex purchasers and require more funding to help women exit the sex trade — at this month’s meeting of the Ontario Chiefs of Police.

“We are talking about the most fragile element of our community,” said Duncan. “These women are at risk.”

He said he strongly believes women being trafficked are victims who deserve resources and help, while johns and pimps should be charged and criminalized.

The London Abused Women’s Centre (LAWC) has long advocated the Nordic Model, saying that to completely decriminalize prostitution will actually leave women more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

The model has raised controversy among women’s groups as many favour decriminalizing prostitution altogether, but is advocated internationally by women’s rights groups such as Equality Now, which aims to end violence and discrimination against women worldwide.

That Duncan would publicly say he would support it is “huge,” said LAWC executive director Megan Walker.

Because they feel women being trafficked in the sex trade are victims who need support, police are working to build a rapport and trust relationship with them, said Henry.

“The most important thing is the safety of the victim,” she said. “Our No. 1 concern is to get her to a place of safety and from there we’ll build a rapport.”

Because the traffickers work like drug dealers, “dealing drugs and dealing girls,” up and down the highway 401 corridor, they are often elusive and police forces are working together across the province to find and charge them.