A woman forced to move to Winnipeg to work in the sex trade endured weeks of abuse at the hands of her captor, who inflicted several serious injuries and even kept her in a freezer until she passed out from a lack of oxygen, according to court documents.
The man uploaded the 26-year-old woman's photo to two websites advertising her for sale and forced her to have sex with 50 customers in a Point Douglas home where she was being held captive, the documents show.
The use of those websites, similar to backpage.com, which was shut down by U.S authorities in April, has renewed calls for the removal of other online sites that allow human traffickers to sexually exploit their victims.
"Shut them all down, they're no good." said Joy Smith, former Conservative MP and founder of Joy Smith Foundation, a non-profit organization focused on combating human trafficking.
"The fact of the matter is human trafficking is very brutal and this happens to a lot of girls, and the traffickers make them work no matter how they're feeling, or how beaten up they are or how bruised they are."
Details of the woman's ordeal were revealed in a court document called an "information to obtain a search warrant." Winnipeg Police Service presented the sworn document to a judge in early August to get authorization for officers to go inside the home and gather evidence in order to charge the alleged abuser.
On Sept. 2, police arrested Andres Michael Pavao, 29, and charged him with a number of offences, including trafficking in persons, forcible confinement and advertising sexual services. He remains in custody.
The woman had known Pavao for eight months and had met him in Windsor, Ont., where they both lived at the time. She told investigators he forced her to take a train to Winnipeg in May and made her live with him in a Point Douglas home owned by his uncle, court documents said.
"[The woman] was subsequently forced into the sex trade industry at the hands of Pavao by way of threats to harm or kill her and/or her family, namely her mother, if she did not comply," police said in the affidavit.
Police said Pavao would arrange "dates with johns" in the house where he and the woman lived, and when the customers left, he would collect the cash. According to the court documents, the woman had a total of 50 "customers" and she would see between three and 10 of them per day.
Photos of the woman in a bikini were posted on two websites advertising sex, according to court documents. All have since been removed. (Manitoba Provincial Court documents)
Woman badly beaten
The woman was beaten regularly over a six-month period while she lived in Windsor and then in Winnipeg. She was allegedly burned with an iron, her hands and feet were bound with bed sheets, she was hung from a clothesline in the basement and deprived of food and water. She was allegedly blindfolded when Pavao left the house to run errands, to prevent her from leaving. She told police she was confined to an unplugged freezer on 15 separate occasions, and a crutch was wedged between the lid and the ceiling so she couldn't get out. The woman said she would pass out from a lack of oxygen. She also said the accused would use a metal clamp attached to an electric cord to shock her.
Photos taken by forensics officers show extensive wounds and bruising on almost every inch of the woman's tiny frame. The pictures show a black eye, bruises on her face, back, arms and legs as well as numerous cuts, burns and scratches. The woman's nose was broken, she suffered kidney damage and an injury to her hand that police said would require plastic surgery, the documents said.
The woman told police she was able to escape by lying to Pavao about picking up a pack of cigarettes from a man in a vehicle parked outside the house, and instead asked the man to drive her to a police station. From there, she was taken to hospital where she remained.
A 26-year-old Windsor, Ont., woman told police she was held captive in a home near downtown Winnipeg by a man who forced her to move to Manitoba. She said the man would tie her hands and feet with bed sheets and blindfold her, then hang her from a clothesline in the basement when he left the house to run errands. (Tyson Koschik/CBC News)
12 human trafficking investigations in 2018
Winnipeg police wouldn't talk about this specific case, but said that so far in 2018, officers have investigated 12 cases of human trafficking for sexual exploitation.
"It is a dark industry and it always has been, and I think the online and the apps that are involved just make that dark industry even darker. It's secretive, it's behind closed doors. It's not necessarily out in the public view," said Rick McDougall, a sergeant in the Winnipeg police Counter Exploitation Unit, a specialized department devoted to the safety and well-being of those involved in the sex trade.
McDougall said while the priority is to locate and safely remove victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation, officers have arrested a number of abusers and issued warrants for offenders they haven't been able to locate.
"We do take this very seriously," he said. "We have had a lot of success recently in rescuing victims of sexual exploitation and making sure they get out of that high-risk environment."
"There's a lot of young people that need to be rescued that need to be protected, but traffickers threaten them so much that often the youngsters don't talk. They're afraid to.
And the johns themselves — it always amazed me the one who's getting the service never bothered to ask 'How old are you, are you OK, do you want to do this?' They just service themselves and go on to the next one
"And the johns themselves — it always amazed me the one who's getting the service never bothered to ask, 'How old are you, are you OK, do you want to do this?' They just service themselves and go on to the next one," she said.
Smith was a Manitoba teacher for 23 years, a Conservative MLA for four years, then a member of Parliament from 2004 to 2015. During that time, she fought for tougher laws against human trafficking. It's an issue she learned about from her police officer son, who worked in the RCMP's Child Exploitation Unit tracking down predators using the internet to sexually exploit kids.
"A lot of people just are very complacent and they don't reach out, they don't help, they don't try to do anything," said Smith. "They live in their own world and we can't do that. We have to reach out and we have to care for those who can't care for themselves."
In April, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation shut down the website backpage.com, but it didn't do much to eliminate sex trafficking. McDougall said other websites just took its place, and even though police here would like to shut them down, it's been nearly impossible.
"The majority of them are actually out of the country, whether it's their servers the websites themselves, the individuals that are operating or owning the websites. So there's really no physical address or individual that we can necessarily even approach," said McDougall.
However, McDougall said police have had some success getting websites to remove ads featuring victims of human trafficking. He said officers have also received tips from johns about possible victims.
"We appreciate the information however it comes to us, and we appreciate it's difficult sometimes for the customers because they have to admit that they're the ones that are doing the exploiting but at the same time they're doing the right thing by approaching authorities and letting us know these people are being sexually exploited against their will."
He said what johns don't seem to realize is that regardless of whether or not they think the woman is consenting to sex, it's still sexual exploitation.
"You're just revictimizing them … you're exploiting people for sex and if there wasn't that form of exchange, whether that's money or whatever that exchange is, the consent would no longer be there," said McDougall.
Smith wants people to be on the lookout for other victims so they can get help too.
"They look abused, they look afraid, they're watching over their shoulder, and we're coming into winter now. If you see a young girl who's not properly dressed and someone watching over her, you know that's a real big sign," said Smith.
"And even in high school if a kid shows up with two cellphones, that's a red flag, because often traffickers give their victims cellphones to keep track of them."
Article published on: September 27, 2018