Prepared by Katelynn Hunt for Defend Dignity - March 20, 2014
Snapshot of Prostitution in Toronto:
The immense growth of Toronto and its surrounding areas (commonly referred to as the Greater Toronto Area, or GTA), as well as its prominence as a transition point for domestic and international travel within Canada creates the foundation for a thriving sex industry in the Greater Toronto Area. Toronto is a major transit point for trafficked and exploited persons who are frequently transported throughout southwestern Ontario, and/or across the country. The four main police jurisdictions who deal with investigating and charging cases of human trafficking and exploitation in the GTA include:
The Toronto Police Service has stated that there is an increasing number of young people being found in downtown Toronto who are recruiting other youth into the sex industry. Often the youth who recruit others do so as a way of escaping victimization themselves. A large proportion of the street prostitution in Toronto takes places between Sherbourne St, Dundas St, Parliament St, and Shuter St, according to the Salvation Army’s Regent Park unit who does outreach to sex trade workers in this area. Most of the individuals who work this stroll are trying to feed an addiction or support their families and make enough money to buy food or pay rent. The rates for sexual services in this area, called the “low track” are significantly lower (starting as low as $10) than on the “high track,” where the same services cost much more (starting at $100). The high track, where the women are generally less drug-dependent, is found between Carlton St, Jarvis St, Gerrard St, and Church St. The sex trade in Toronto also has an increasing online presence where sex workers and pimps advertise their available services on the internet.
Police say there has been a recent rise in underage youth exploitation in York Region. In February 2014, 10 men had over 120 charges laid relating to exploitation in an investigation called Project Home for Christmas that found 31 girls and women working in hotels in north Toronto. Police stated that many of the victims were underage girls who experienced violence and were forced into the trade, and the goal of this investigation was to return them to safety with their families for the Christmas holidays. York Region also has a significant online sex industry; unlike downtown Toronto there is less of a “track” where women work on the streets. Rather, websites such as Backpage are used to advertise sexual services, and hotel rooms are the most frequent meeting places for the exchange of these services in York Region.
In 2012, of the 60 human trafficking cases that had been reported up until that time, 31 of them were from Peel Region. Peel Region was also the first police service in Canada to convict someone under human trafficking laws. Peel Police have stated that pimps often used Highway 401 and the QEW to transport women between Windsor and Montreal. At the end of January 2014, the Major Drugs & Vice Unit took part in a nationwide investigation called Operation Northern Spotlight where over 330 young women involved in the sex industry were interviewed. Through this investigation, 15 women between the ages of 18 and 45 from the Peel region were found in hotels and motels in and between Brampton and Mississauga. Police believe that at least two of these women were not in this industry of their own will. Services and supports were offered to all women interviewed in this investigation, in hopes that they might choose other alternatives to the sex trade.
According to police, incidents of human trafficking have been increasing in the Durham Region over the past year. They recently stated that women are being found in hotels along the Highway 401 corridor, especially in the town of Whitby. The region’s first human trafficking conviction resulted from an investigation in the spring of 2013 called Project Spencer, where a 33 year-old man from Whitby was convicted of trafficking two young women aged 21 and 23 for the purposes of sexual exploitation. A second investigation called Project Armstrong resulted in over 80 charges being laid against 9 individuals who were arrested for crimes relating to human trafficking, and drug and weapon offences.
- For those who are working in the sex industry, and for those who are being exploited: Pray for women who are working in sex industries throughout the GTA: for safety, support, protection, and caring individuals to walk through life with them. Pray also for women who are internationally trafficked through Toronto, that the people working in services such as border control, customs, transportation, and hotels would recognize them and offer them a way out. Please pray for the Holy Spirit to move in the lives of women, children, and gay and transgendered individuals working in the sex industry in the GTA in order for Christ to be revealed to them. For those who are forced into prostitution, for those who are dependent on this industry to feed their families or to continue addictions, please pray for divine appointments and revelations to help provide safety, as well as opportunities to know the healing and restoration found in Christ.
- For the ‘johns’: Pray for those who purchase sex throughout the GTA. Pray for them to be convicted of their actions and how they degrade the dignity of others. Pray for them to find ways of being open and honest with others about their struggles. Pray for supportive individuals to walk through the process of change with them so that they too can experience dignity.
- For the traffickers: Pray for those who exploit others in the GTA, many of whom are affiliated with gangs and organized crime. Pray that the chains that bind them to these negative connections would be broken. Pray for organizations to rise up to support these individuals in finding more meaningful ways of living, and to teach them about the power of Christ to change their lives.
- For those working on the frontlines: Pray for the law enforcement agencies that aim to protect victims of exploitation, and charge those who exploit and traffick others. Pray that God would lead them in finding victims through their investigations, whether online, on the streets, in homes, or in hotels. Pray for the charges they lay on pimps and traffickers to be turned into convictions, in order to stop exploiters from continuing their business. Please also pray for the staff working in programs that seek to assist individuals who are involved in the sex trade. Pray that the staff would be given measures of patience, endurance, compassion, strength, wisdom, and clarity in their approaches to working with these individuals. Pray for collaboration between organizations (many of whom have opposing views on the current legal debate on prostitution laws in Canada) so that a network of safety will be created in order to provide the maximum support possible to women in these situations. Pray for these organizations to be able to move beyond these disagreements and work together to provide holistic support to those in the sex industry.
Toronto Initiatives to Pray for:
Please pray for the following community initiatives and organizations in the Toronto area who serve individuals involved in and exiting prostitution:
- Rahab Ministry, a compassion ministry geared towards empowering women and children in the sex trade to be liberated and restored. Rahab Ministry works primarily with women who work in exotic massage and spa parlors in the GTA, providing services to them such as immigration information, spirituality groups, counselling, and ESL tutoring. (www.rahabministry.ca/)
- Youth Unlimited (Toronto YFC) has several programs, but the ones that work most closely with those involved in prostitution include Light Patrol, which is an outreach program that responds to the needs of Toronto’s homeless and street-involved youth. Within Light Patrol, their SAFE LIGHT Special Care for Girls unit cares for the needs of young women whose journeys commonly involve abuse and prostitution. Safe Light begins with outreach activities that bring practical help to girls who face the cruellest elements of street life. Youth Unlimited in the GTA also helps to oversee Rahab Ministry. (www.youthunlimitedgta.ca/our-programs/city-wide-programs/light-patrol/)
- Regeneration Community Services is a charitable not-for-profit community based mental health and addictions organization providing affordable supportive housing and case management services for adults with serious mental health and/or addiction issues. (www.regenerationcs.org)
- Knights Table aims to alleviate hunger in the Peel Region of the GTA. This organization is dedicated to inspiring all people to achieve their full potential. The Knights Table helps by providing food bank, hot meals and other services to the people of Brampton who deal with the daily issues of hunger, poverty and homelessness. (www.knightstable.org)
- u-r home is a safe house in the process of being developed out of the Newmarket Church. Its goal is to provide a place of hope for rescued victims of human trafficking in York Region. u-r home aims to do this by raising awareness and educating the public on local and domestic human trafficking issues, as well as promoting u-r home as a place of hope and walking the journey of restoration with victims of human trafficking. (www.facebook.com/urhomesafehouse/info)
- Arkenstone helps organizations, churches and concerned individuals understand the needs of Canadian street youth, and explore practical responses. Derived from the Old English word for “precious stone,” Arkenstone is a reminder that street youth need to be treasured. Arkenstone’s programs in this area include public speaking, preaching, and story-telling on the issue of prostitution and human trafficking. (www.johncassells.com)
- The FCJ Refugee Centre offers a variety of programs for refugees, including direct services to people who have been internationally trafficked, taking into account the range of supports needed. Walking with survivors through legal processes, immigration procedures, settlement and recovery, we take a holistic approach to ensure people are informed and empowered to steer their own course out of the trafficking experience. They ensure trafficked persons have access to orientation, legal assistance and referrals, information about their immigration options, appropriate housing, employment support, counseling and other forms of psycho-social support. The path out of human trafficking may take time, and FCJ Refugee Centre walks with people the whole way. (www.fcjrefugeecentre.org)
- Covenant House Toronto desires to help open doors for youth experiencing homelessness. Based on the idea that girls whose journeys have included homelessness are far more likely to have already experienced sexual abuse at home, abusive relationships and human trafficking, Covenant House offers specific supports for female youth. Their Lise Watier This Is Me! Program helps girls through crisis shelter and longer-term residence, and aims to foster self-confidence, offer life skills, and provide role modelling through workshops conducted by female community and business leaders. (www.covenanthousetoronto.ca/homeless-youth/Lise-Watier-This-is-Me-Girls-Program)
- The Women’s Support Network’s Human Trafficking Program’s main goal is to develop a community response, referral process, and protocols to assist women and girls who are trafficked for sexual exploitation within York Region. The Human Trafficking Program provides a 24/7 crisis phone line for women and girls who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation, or at risk for trafficking. Support is also provided to these women by providing response to emergency basic needs, emergency crisis counseling (at WSN), legal support and advocacy, medical assistance, educational/vocational training, employment assistance, and immigration services. (www.womenssupportnetwork.ca)
If you suspect someone is being sexually trafficked or exploited please contact Crime Stoppers 1.800.222.8477 or call the Human Trafficking National Crisis Line 1.866.528.7109