Poverty, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking

On Wednesday evening, I went to an event that I found very upsetting. Working in the area of poverty, I am always trying to gain insight into why things are the way they are for our city, so it was a natural fit for me to attend the “Poverty, Prostitution, and Human Trafficking” event, part of the “Who is Joe?” speaker series that Goodwill Industries is offering the community. The event featured Detective Constable Jim Potruff of London Police Services, who had been assigned to investigate human trafficking for London, Ontario.

Here are a few things I learned:

  • London has 3 full-time officers dedicated to investigating human trafficking
  • It’s estimated that 30% of the current homeless youth population in London will turn to human trafficking
  • There is a shocking amount of underage girls working within London’s sex trade
  • Conviction of pimps is very low, because the onus is on the victim to show up in court for a conviction (in fact, I was informed that not once has a pimp been convicted in court – and it’s 2016!)
  • A “pimp” can make almost $300,000/year if he is willing to sexually exploit another person (multiply that by 10, and you have quite the salary)
  • London is a central hub for prostitution along the 401 corridor, often a destination for those looking to purchase sexual services

London, we have a problem here. Everyone within this session was essentially aghast about these shocking accounts of the lives of women and men who are involved in the sex trade, as we should be. Why is this happening to people within our communities?

A few things struck me in this session as opportunities for action and collaboration. Detective Constable Jim Potruff admitted that London Police Services is equipped only to deal with the prostitution as it is happening, and more insight and efforts are needed to understand WHY young people are turning to the sex trade as a means for survival.

Complimentary to this, Megan Walker, Executive Director of the London Abused Women’s Centre closed the event with one of the most poignant statements that underscored the need to prevent people from turning to the sex trade. She stated that in her career, she’s met over 3,000 women, and not one has ever stated that she grew up wanting to work in the sex trade.

What can we do within schools, communities and the family unit to educate young people about the sex trade? How can we stop the demand for sexual services so that it is no longer an option? How can organizations in London partner with London Police Services to work on prevention, rather than allowing it to continue? How can we all advocate for change within the justice system that leads to more convictions without the victim’s involvement? We all need to step up, London.

There’s that old adage that says that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, but that doesn’t mean it still has to be accepted because “it’s work”. It is up to us, as a community, to wrap around our young people and family units and to collaborate as organizations and individuals to keep the conversations about human trafficking going, so that one day, we can see an official end to this damaging and oppressive practice.

(Thank you to Goodwill Industries for putting on this important “Who is Joe?” speaker series, and for Detective Constable Jim Potruff and Megan Walker for sharing this important information)

Anne-Marie E. Fischer is the Manager of the London Poverty Research Centre @ King’s