The consensus reached at this month’s Board of Police Commissioners’ meeting is that more resources are needed to help women and underage girls who are the victims of human trafficking in Regina and across the province.
A report on the state of the Regina Police Service’s response to the sex trade and human trafficking was presented to the board. Sgt. Darcy McDonald, a member of the Regina Police Service’s vice unit, detailed how the RPS is tackling the sex trade in Regina, and the challenges police still face.
With the introduction of Bill C-36 in 2015, Regina police have shifted their efforts to targeting the men seeking the services of sex workers, rather than the women themselves. Police charged 21 johns with purchasing sexual services in 2015, 19 in 2016 and eight so far in 2017. More stings are planned for later this year.
Where police seem to be hitting a wall is the area of human trafficking.
Police have been involved in 15 investigations into human trafficking in Regina over the past three years. McDonald described those investigations as “complex and frustrating.” Police will sometimes pose as johns to establish contact with sex workers. But unless the women or underage girls disclose to police that they are the victims of human trafficking, McDonald said there is little police can do.
“If they don’t tell us that, we don’t have a charge,” said McDonald.
To date, police have identified 465 escorts in Regina. Two-thirds of those women were from out of province. Police also identified three escorts between the ages of 14-16. One of those investigations is before the courts. The other two girls have refused to disclose their experiences. Police are staying in contact with the girls in case they decide to disclose the crimes against them in the future.
Another challenge is that police have no place to house women on a long-term basis while they tare reintegrated back into the community. McDonald pointed to Edmonton’s Dream Centre as an example of a service that would be helpful in Regina. The centre offers shelter, programming and psychological services for women who may have a pimp that has exerted psychological control over them.
While police recently took two girls to a shelter where they stayed for two weeks, McDonald said that isn’t enough time.
“If we get them out of that exploitive relationship we have nowhere to put them for any length of time,” said McDonald.
The report into trafficking came at the request of city councillor and police commissioner Barbara Young. Young spent years working as a teacher and principal, and has seen firsthand the effects of child sexual exploitation.
“There are schools in the city where young women leave during the day to go home to work for their parents, or whoever is exploiting them, to earn money,” said Young.
While Young believes Bill C-36 made the positive change of placing more culpability on the part of johns, more still needs to be done to help young women get out of the sex trade. Young discussed the possibility of the city establishing services to help sex workers, but said the province also needs to step up.
“I don’t think it’s up to a city by itself to do this. I think we have to have the resources to do that,” said Young.
Chief Evan Bray agreed that a more holistic way of responding to the issue is needed.
“There’s a whole myriad of things that we need to do as a community, and as a province I think, to try and provide some sort of follow-up support and service to the girls,” said Bray.