TORONTO — Sammy, who immigrated here from the United Kingdom as a young girl, grew up in a middle class home, had lots of friends, played sports and did well in school.
Few people could have predicted that, as a teenager, she would become part of a human trafficking ring.
Sammy told her story at last week’s panel on human trafficking, sponsored by National Council of Jewish Women, Toronto section. Also on the panel was Thai Truong, a detective in the organized crime bureau, drugs and vice unit for York Regional Police, and Tamara Cherry, a crime reporter for CTV.
Sammy said that in high school, she was confident and independent, “and always attracted to the ‘bad boy.’ I didn’t know the path that would lead me down.”
After her boyfriend was arrested, his friend, “Mark,” took Sammy out for pizza, and asked her to hold his wallet. When she returned the wallet, he accused her of stealing money and drugs.
“He began punching me, and I admitted it just so he’d leave me alone. He told me I owed him that money, as well as money that my boyfriend owed him. His debt was passed on to me. He told me I had to work as a prostitute to work it off.”
He let her go, but after a few days, she was picked up from her home and taken to a downtown hotel. A few men took pictures of her wearing skimpy outfits, and posted the pictures on an online prostitute site.
Eventually, they had her working from 7 a.m. to 4 a.m. for almost two years, and gave her no breaks and no money.
“They also fed me drugs, so I became dependent on them. My family and friends thought I was selling my body to pay for my drug habit.”
She eventually escaped, and ended up in hospital, “but I was [afraid and ashamed] and didn’t tell anyone I had been trafficked.”
She began healing emotionally, she said, after talking to someone from the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking. “I hope and pray that by [telling my story] I can get the message out that we can prevent human trafficking before it happens.”
Truong explained that human trafficking is different from human smuggling. “Smuggling [occurs] when a person comes to a country illegally. It becomes trafficking when the person is forced to work to pay off a debt.”
He said that although he is shocked every time he hears about a human trafficking case, “I hear about it over and over again on a daily basis. It happens in our own community, in our own city, across Canada.”
The police face a lot of barriers when investigating these cases, he said, because typically, the person is afraid to tell the police.
Even when a victim is free, he said, there are a lot of issues to resolve. “These girls need lots of help. Every victim has a unique set of circumstances, and they need to be dealt with. We have to get the girls back to a healthy state of mind.”
Cherry, who wrote a series on human trafficking when she worked for the Toronto Sun, said it scares her to think how easily a trafficking case can start up. “It has been going on for hundreds of years, and nothing has changed. I’m happy that there is a room full of people who want to learn about it.”