Local Journalism Initiative
“Every single day in Sarnia sex trafficking occurs,” says the Coordinator for the local Anti-Human Trafficking Project
The recent conviction in Sarnia of a man on nine charges relating to the exploitation of two women through sex trafficking — including a minor — comes as no surprise to Chantel Butterfield.
To Butterfield’s knowledge, the recent case in Point Edward marks the first time a sex trafficking charge has been successfully prosecuted in Lambton County.
Charges were laid in an unrelated case by Sarnia Police, two years ago, but were eventually dropped.
The minimum sentence for human trafficking is four years.
“There’s a high demand for sex trade work here,” says Butterfield.
“This is a blue collar, border city. There are a lot of out-of-town workers and a lot of travellers coming through.”
The laws surrounding sex trade work and human trafficking in Canada are contradictory.
It’s perfectly legal for a woman or man over the age of 18 to sell his or her body, Butterfield says, but it’s illegal to purchase services from a sex trade worker, or to exploit a worker for money.
It’s especially serious if the exploitation concerns a minor.
But it doesn’t stop a plethora of online websites offering workers and their wares in every city in Ontario.
Recent Statistics Canada data on the multi-billion dollar sex trafficking industry report 90 percent of trafficked workers are women between 18-24.
Butterfield says some sex trade workers operate independently, but most are led by others.
It’s all about the connection, she adds. “Most sex trafficking is very relationship-based,” she says, adding traffickers (pimps) offer their victims “love, attention, affection and protection.
“Many women who become sex workers think they are helping their boyfriends,” she says. “These women can easily make $1,000 a day.”
Butterfield says the sensationalized stereotypes surrounding sex and human trafficking need to change.
The issue is often viewed like the storyline of the movie ‘Taken’ where young immigrant women are abducted, injected with drugs and held against their will.
Other images include smuggling people in airtight containers across international borders. “That does happen.” Eighty percent of all human trafficking is domestic.
“These are people who were born here,” Butterfield explains, adding women are groomed by their exploiters to “fall in love with an ideal partner.
“Those who prey on these young people look for holes they can fill in the that person’s life,” Butterfield says.
The needs can range from drug addiction to homelessness to simply needing to feel wanted and loved.
Their pimp introduces the young person, who can be male, female or transgender, to the sex work, and the work becomes normalized over time.
“Often they don’t even realize they’ve been trafficked,” Butterfield notes. “Even though they believe they’ve had a choice, they’ve been coerced.”
Because of the underground nature of the work and the shame often associated with it, police intervention is difficult and not the norm,” Butterfield says.
One way to help is by educating consumers, Butterfield says.
Those purchasing services from sex trade workers need to know the signs of a trafficked worker and report it.
The Anti-Human Trafficking Project operates out of the Sexual Assault Survivors Centre in Sarnia and offers help to all sex trade workers.
It can be reached toll free at 1-888-231-0536.
The federal government also has a Canadian Human Trafficking Hotline that can be reached at 1-833-900-1010.