A friend of mine posted a link on Facebook of a recent story covered by CNN about teenage girls (15 years old) being arrested for sex trafficking in Ottawa, Canada. He posted it because he was shocked that they were arrested because to him, they sounded like victims. Another person commented disagreeing that they are victims and arguing that they kidnapped, beat, and forced other teen girls (13-17 years old) into prostitution and therefore should be convicted. This subsequently sparked a debate on Facebook following his link about whether they should be arrested or not. I weighed in a little on the Facebook debate, but I wanted to elaborate here.
Because the girls who were arrested are teenagers, not much is being released about them due to the Youth Criminal Justice Act. What we do know is that they are being charged with a laundry list of offenses: human trafficking, robbery, sexual assault, abduction, etc. Also, we know that they were using social media to lure in victims. So that is what we know. What I want to discuss is whether they should be charged and convicted of these crimes.
My quick answer: probably not. Young girls are trafficked into the commercial sex industry in every state and nation in the world every day. Pimps and traffickers use force, fraud, and coercion to lure young, vulnerable girls into the sex industry. Girls are beaten, threatened, raped, and given drugs to ensure that they comply and stay in the industry. Many girls are homeless or runaway youth who have no where else to go. Pimps often make the girl believe he is her boyfriend and that he loves her and wants to take care of her. Young girls do not have a choice when entering the sex trade.
But these girls that I am referring to are the ones being forced to sell themselves for sex. The girls in this Ottawa case are allegedly the traffickers, not the girls in prostitution. Well, that’s what the media has led us to think because they have been criminalized right from the start. What the media has not considered or discussed is that young girls are trafficked into the sex trade all of the time and then forced to lure other girls “like them” into the industry as well. Who are they forced by? The same pimp or trafficker that forced them into the industry. I know what you’re thinking — why would the pimp/trafficker force her to do his work? Because he does not want to get caught because then his prostitution ring is destroyed. If he puts one of his victims in the “leadership” role to recruit other victims, then he is safe and he can continue to collect the money and run the “business.” When she gets caught — she may not be convicted or may receive minimal sentencing, so he can lure her back in when she is released. Or if she is convicted and receives a sentence, he has plenty of other girls that he has control of that he can put into that role. It happens all of the time.
The news articles claim that as far as they know, the teenage girls are working alone — they do not have a pimp or trafficker controlling them. This is an absurd thing to believe as fact right off the bat. What 15 year old girl is going to start a sex trafficking ring alone — with no influence from anyone? That is NOT what 15 year old girls do. Furthermore, the teenage girls were using social media to recruit victims — meaning that they did not have to be the ones on the computer just as you don’t know, for certain, that I am the one writing this blog. Technology is a tricky thing — its pretty easy to hide behind a computer screen and claim you are someone that you are not. That’s the trick of pedophiles. I am not saying that that is what is happening in this case — because minimal information has been released — but we should not argue with certainty that these teenage girls are working alone given what we know about the sex trade.
One can also claim that these girls are 15 years old and they know right from wrong — they know that kidnapping, beating, and forcing someone to have sex with someone else is wrong. I agree to some extent that they know it is wrong. But another thing that we know about child sex trafficking is that the majority of victims have experienced child abuse and many are homeless. So it can also be argued that these girls could have come from a life of abuse and they think that treatment and behavior is normal. Furthermore, if they do have a pimp or trafficker controlling them, they are being forced to kidnap, beat, and force other girls to have sex. Their lives are likely being threatened if they do not comply. Also, the pimp/trafficker could have convinced her that they were in love and she would do anything for love. Or she is now dependent on her pimp/trafficker for food and shelter, so she has no other choice. These are very plausible situations that these teenage girls may be facing.
The Sergent in Ottawa was quoted saying that he is shocked that such young girls are the criminals here. His shock stems from the fact that he cannot believe teenage girls would do that. My shock is that he is in shock. These things happen all of the time. Every day. In Canada. In Chicago. In rural America. In Thailand. Everywhere. These situations are complex. The public as well as law enforcement, social service providers, and lawyers are not well educated on the realities of the sex trade that I have briefly discussed here. The silence has to be broken and these realities must be exposed so that we can properly address this severe social injustice plaguing society.