The light has been focused on the issue of Human trafficking in London again after study was released. It was four years ago that Award winning producer and director Matthew Marshall had started his journey for his feature film Daughter of the King about Human trafficking. On the eve of the first rehearsal the first ever human trafficking charges were laid in London Ontario. A lot has changed in that four years. Marshall has gone from being laughed at by people about making a film about human trafficking to him proving he had his finger on the pulse of something. From a dream of making a film about the topic to an award winning film in Daughter of the King.
Well the landscape in Southwestern Ontario has changed as well in regards to human trafficking. A six-month investigation into human trafficking and prostitution in Southwestern Ontario that led to 78 arrests trains a harsh spotlight on a problem gripping the region, an opposition London MPP says.
Thirty-five men trying to buy sex were swept up in the London police-led probe and 129 charges were laid, including four for human trafficking — a crime advocates say is closely linked to the sex trade. It was the region’s biggest roundup in years of suspects trying to buy sex.
The London police have announced the results of the Project Equinox investigation that was conducted with police forces from Strathroy-Caradoc, Stratford and Woodstock. The size of the bust reinforces how ubiquitous human trafficking is in the province. It also drives home the fact that it really happens in London Ontario. Something that many said was not the case when Marshall started Daughter of the King. But it’s not just London. it is communities all along the 4012 corridor which was also somehting that marshall talked alot about out of his research for the film. ”It happens all along the 401. many turn a blind eye to it but if you open your eyes it happens right infront of us and it’s your daughter, sister, mom, wife or someone else that is close to you that is a woman” says Marshall. he added “you hear stories in the news about women who are being moved from hotel to hotel, up and down the 401 who are being forced to work as sex slaves.” Marshall says
Police had previously identified London as a hub for human trafficking, an offence that’s on the rise in cities across the province. In response, the Ontario Liberals last summer pledged $72 million to establish an anti-trafficking office and dedicated prosecution team.
The director of the London Abused Women’s Centre, one of several city agencies involved in Project Equinox, applauded police for devoting the resources to combat human trafficking, but she cautioned the crime is especially challenging to prosecute.
“It’s very difficult to have sex-trafficking charges (laid) because it often times relies on the victim — the woman — to testify or disclose she’s being trafficked,” Megan Walker said.
“And because there are so many women that are fearful, they often times won’t disclose that information. They’ll say they’re there by choice.” London Abused Women’s Centre provided services to 233 survivors of prostitution, trafficking and or sexual exploitation between June 2015 and March 2017, said Walker.
Project Equinox investigators identified 18 women, ranging in age from 15 to 55, involved in the sex trade as a result of human trafficking, who were provided with support, police said. It came as no surprise that teens were among the victims, said Barbara MacQuarrie, community director for the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Western University. “I’m saddened, but I’m not surprised,” she said. “Young women are vulnerable and we know that young women are being exploited.”
Experts say many females involved in the sex trade — some as young as 13 — appear to be doing so voluntarily, but that they’re actually forced into the work through threats, violence and drug dependency, with most or all of their earnings handed over to a male controller.
Other agencies involved in the investigation — some of which helped police pinpoint where suspected trafficking was happening, while others assisted victims — included the Salvation Army, Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex, the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre, and Anova, a London agency that helps victims of sexual violence and abuse.
The investigation, running from Oct. 4, 2016, to April 1, targeted individuals answering escort ads, people involved in human trafficking and victims of human trafficking. Police also laid 24 drug charges, seized $8,070 in drugs, $12,740 in cash, one rifle and three knives.
Marshall’s film looked at the under belly of what it is like for a young woman to be forced into the sex trade and work as sex slave. Daughter of the King follows Ashley Miller (Debra van Gaalen) as she rebuilds herself after a drug filled episode trying to live a normal life. An outstanding debt gets her pulled back into the underworld that is ruled by Haydar (Florin Marksteiner), a ruthless man that forces her into slavery. She becomes his property. Ashley is forced to prostitute and deal drugs hoping to regain her freedom. The abuse that comes from all sides and in all forms crushes her to the ground making her believe she’s worthless. In the darkest moments Nadia (Kelsea Meredith), her close friend, descends in her life like an angel bringing her back to the light and setting her free. The film finished at film festivals with 32 Awards, 16 Official Selections, 3 Nominations and an Official Finalist award.