Human traffickers are good at emotional abuse they come in like a knight in shining armour promising love, safety, stability and happiness and they deliver a nightmare described survivor Simone Bell.
Ten years ago Bell was forced into the sex trade in an Ottawa-area suburb at the age of 21, by an arms dealer who blackmailed her into paying back an ‘astronomical debt.’ It was owed by her boyfriend who was jailed for firearms possession. Bell was held hostage, raped, drugged, forced into the sex trade and trafficked in several cities throughout central and eastern Ontario for four horrifying years. She described her captor who she fled from with nothing but the shirt on her back, as a ‘Gorilla’ or ‘Godzilla’ pimp. The type of pimp that uses violence and threats to force their victims into the trade. Pointing to a pimp handbook called ’48 Laws of Pimping’ (that activists are trying to have removed from book store shelves) Bell said traffickers tend to steer away from those tactics by using control and manipulation.
“Youth are lured through promises of a better life,” Bell told a cross-section of 240 police, healthcare providers, social services front line workers and hotel staff who participated in a human trafficking workshop in Belleville Thursday. She said the most vulnerable pushed into the sex trade industry are youth, victims of abuse, indigenous people and the LGBTQ+ community. She said human traffickers are seeking out children online that display insecurity, isolation, loneliness and are craving attention. She said it’s up to parents to know what is going on with their kids’ social media use. She recommended making sure they have focus, passion and are interested in a hobby, sports or volunteering. (See below for human trafficking indicators in youth)
“They woo them. They mix love with abuse, threats and blackmail,” said Bell who now offers victim support services and peer mentoring to fellow survivors through Roos-Remillard Consulting Service and Project Hope.
An all too similar story shocked the Quinte and surrounding area recently when two 16-year-old-girls from Kingston reported to police they were lured into the sex trade with promises of ‘a better life’ by an 18-year-old Quinte West man who is facing several charges.
With 45.8 million victims worldwide, human trafficking has become a $150 billion industry and it’s happening here behind closed doors in the Quinte area. In 2015, two sentences for human trafficking were handed down in Belleville to two parties (man and woman) and in Quinte West there have been charges laid too.
Trauma Bond & Red Flags
“They create a trauma bond,” Bell explained painting a picture of what makes a person vulnerable to human traffickers and why it is so difficult to help victims. “They offer love, hope, charm, happiness mixed with fear, obligation, and confusion. They deny they did any of it and blame it on the victim. They yell, and abuse them then give the silent treatment until the victim comes running back.”
In Bell’s case her trafficker threatened her with harming her family. She said whether it’s addiction, fear, love, or photos the trafficker always has a hold on their victim.
Pointing to red flags and behavioural clues Bell said broken bones, scars, cigarette burns, constant anxiety or lack of eye contact are tell tale signs.
“You can’t talk and they won’t let you look at anyone,” she described. “They (the trafficker) calls to check in with you every two hours. They are likely tracking you with GPS through that phone. They are branded (tattooed) with their trafficker’s name or a bar code so other traffickers know they are owned. It’s a way of control. You’re my property. It’s no different than getting a cattle prod.”
If someone suspects a patient or client is a victim of human trafficking Bell said it’s crucial to ask the right questions and keep asking them. It takes time to build trust with someone who feels isolated, alone and numb.
“Anyone can be that one person to take a step back and ask ‘what happened to you’ and explain ‘what happened to you.'”
Bell said it’s also important for healthcare professionals to ‘see them alone.’ She urged everyone to separate someone they think is forced into the sex trade from anyone who might be there as a ‘concerned friend.’ They could be the pimp himself or another female working in the trade. She suggested finding a way to get an x-ray because the victim has to go in alone for the procedure. She also stressed the need to make sure the victim comes back to their office for something like blood work.
With mental health and addictions she said it’s imperative that the victim ‘get clean before they get out of the trade.’ She stated how opioid withdrawal is extremely painful and if something isn’t done about it first, the victim will go right back into the trade.
Bell also said there just ‘isn’t enough training’ in the hotel industry.
“They need to check stairwells and the perimeter,” she stressed. “It’s happening in every single hotel. Where there is sex work there is human trafficking.”
She encouraged employees to take note of men and women randomly hanging around outside hotel rooms and in the stairwells because they are sometimes employees known as the ‘babysitter or bottom bitch’ – sex trade employees who watch the victim and collect money.
Amanda Bronzan who works as a house keeping supervisor at a local hotel said the workshop was an eye-opener that she appreciated. It made her more aware of what characteristics to look for. “There could be something in the room that’s a clue,” she offered. “There could be a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door for a week at a time. Now I will be second guessing does the person ‘hanging around’ in the hall know the person staying in that room.”
Bronzan not only appreciated the tips for work but as a parent of a young daughter too.
“My daughter is seven but has the mindset of a 13-year-old because of social media,” she explained. “This is going to help me as a parent explain the dangers to my children.”
Knowing the signs and what to look for in youth
- A change in behaviour
- An elevated high like falling in love then a huge crash
- Expensive clothes and/or jewelry
- A new cellphone or more than one cellphone
- Fear and jumpy when the new phone rings and constant use
- Not going to class and/or attending class lethargic and extremely tired
- Drug use
- Broken bones
- Cigarette burns on their body
- Black eyes
- Strangulation indicators such as blood shot eyes, marks on the neck and a raspy voice
- Sexually Transmitted Infections
- Urinary tract infections