They target the city’s most vulnerable women with promises of a better life, only to drag them into the dark ring of prostitution.
Experts say the modern day pimp has more resources than ever to woo young girls online.
“These girls are being recruited from high schools,” Michelle Anderson, a human trafficking specialist from Covenant House, explained. “They’re coming down on a Saturday to shop downtown and they’re being recruited there. They’re on Facebook. They’re being recruited from everywhere.”
Anderson said these pimps prey on their victims’ vulnerability and romance them with attention and gifts, leading them to believe they were in a “boyfriend [and] girlfriend relationship.”
“They are looking for someone who doesn’t have a great deal of confidence. So, they offer them a meal in a restaurant, get their nails done,” she said.
“For the first time she may believe — ‘Oh, this guy really likes me’ — and then she starts to see him as her boyfriend. After a short period of time, he’s going to turn the tables on her and say, ‘Did you think this was all for free?'”
Anderson said often these young girls have no idea they’re being groomed for the sex trade.
Bridget Perrier knows first hand how persuasive these pimps can be.
“I was a groomed child. I was exploited at 12 years of age,” she explained. “I was recruited out of a child-welfare-run group home … I was forced to sell sex across Canada.”
Perrier, who is now the co-founder of sextrade101.com, a group that advocates for survivors of the sex trade, said areas like Dundas and Sherbourne streets are prime target areas for those looking to take advantage of vulnerable women.
“This is basically skid row,” she explained. “These pimps, they’re very savvy. They know what to say to these girls.”
Perrier said when it comes to the kind of damage done to these young girls, often the impact of the Johns goes unnoticed.
“What the Johns did to me and what the legacy … has left behind in my life is a lot of pain and hurt and sadness,” she said.
On Wednesday, police announced charges against nine people accused in a human trafficking ring that operated in the GTA and across Canada.
The Toronto police investigation, dubbed Project Guardian and conducted between October 2014 and April, focused on a local street-level gang called the Complex Crip Gangsters.
The nine arrested face human trafficking and drug-related charges after 13 raids were conducted in areas of Jane Street and Wilson Avenue as well as Kipling Avenue and Rexdale Boulevard on April 2.
Police said they have only scratched the surface of the problem of the sex trade industry in the city.