“Emma” thought she was in love with her human trafficking “boyfriend” Michael Lopez.
She never thought she was a victim of human trafficking until the day the woman learned she sent Lopez $1,000 — earned from her work as a prostitute — in February 2016 while he was vacationing with another woman in the Dominican. Lopez had lied he was visiting family in Montreal.
Human trafficking is considered the third-most profitable of all illicit activities, behind only drugs and the arms trade, in the world. But while most only think of human trafficking as the smuggling of sex slaves from Thailand or eastern Europe, it comes in many forms, including a domestic version.
Emma — whose identity is covered by a publication ban — never imagined she’d be a victim of human trafficking while living in her own city but isolated from family and friends by her controlling, violent lover. She was a prisoner of his love and his violence, which stopped her from running away.
She testified against her violent human trafficking ex-lover, who was sentenced last week to five years in prison for the trafficking, assault, uttering death threats and other crimes against the 23-year-old woman. She was 19 and had suffered from depression and loneliness her whole life when she met Lopez in the summer of 2014. She was seduced by his promises of a better life.
She would work as an escort and gave Lopez 60% of her earnings, starting in September 2014. Lopez would post Internet ads and pay for them via bitcoin. She had worked occasionally in the sex trade, maybe three times, but not seriously, court heard.
“She thought that Lopez was attracted to her, but she also knew that he was interested in money,” said Justice Kenneth Campbell.
Lopez branded his girlfriend his “vaca con leche” — cow with milk — and milk her he did. Lopez started keeping all of the $1,000 to $2,000 a week she made as a prostitute. The woman received a only a pittance of what she made by sexually satisfying hundreds of strange men in GTA hotel rooms over a 17-month period, ending in February 2016.
Lopez doled out only $20 to $40 every third or fourth day so that she could pay for her personal hygiene products. The promises of a better life rang hollow but Lopez threatened and beat her, if she didn’t meet his quota.
“Human trafficking is effectively a form of modern-day slavery, through which an individual is forced to perform a labour or service out of fear for the safety of themselves or another,” said Crown attorney Michael Wilson, who prosecuted Lopez.
Det. Const. Andy Medeiros, who has spent the last three years on the Human Trafficking Enforcement team for Toronto Police and was the investigator on the Lopez case, said there are disturbing trends emerging.
“We on the team started to see more women subjected to domestic violence and exploited in human trafficking at younger ages,” said Medeiros.
“There’s a real problem in high schools, especially with the loss of officers in the schools, where we used to get information on vulnerable girls and guys trying to recruit girls,” said Medeiros, a 19-year police veteran. Some of the traffickers or pimps use prostitutes or “bottom bitches” to lure others into the business.
“The girls feel comfortable with other girls, trust them, while they are working at the behest of the trafficker,” said Medeiros.
Emma said she was approached by other escorts trying to sell her on the idea of leaving Lopez to join their groups for better money and working conditions. She refused because she feared Lopez would hurt her or that he would be harmed by another pimp. Medeiros noted a recent Toronto case where a 16-year-old allegedly recruited two 15-year-old girls for the trade.
“And the recruiter wouldn’t name the adult male, 18-year-old pulling the strings. She said to us, ‘How are you going to protect my family in this?’” recalled Medeiros.
Article published: August 12, 2018