New research shows human trafficking in Ottawa is far more prevalent that we may have thought. The study by PACT-Ottawa (Preventing and Reducing the Trafficking of Women and Girls), released today, identified 140 victims who were trafficked for sex in the Ottawa area in the last year.   They are young,12 to 25 years of age, mostly girls who have been lured, forced into the sex trade, fearing for their life and finding no way out. 

"It's kind of sad but make sure you know where your kids are, who your kids' friends are," says one woman, whose daughter was the victim of a human trafficking ring in Ottawa that was run by 15 and 16 year old girls.  It is an incredibly frightening case but sadly not unique.

“Their stories are pretty horrific, what they went through,” says Project imPACT Manager Elise Wohlbold.

Over the past year, Wohlbold and her team have been exploring this dark side of Ottawa, uncovering more than 140 victims, mostly girls between the ages of 12 and 25 who have been lured, coerced, threatened into having sex for money.  It is a highly lucrative business for the traffickers that can bring in $1000 a day per girl.  Ninety percent of those victims were Canadian, from the Ottawa area.

“It's happening in private parties, in private venues,” says Wohlbold, “It’s harder to find and harder for police to access.”

Human trafficking has been called modern day slavery but most of the victims aren't physically restrained.  It is more of a psychological bond where they are slowly groomed, then threatened in order to get them to comply. Police say Ottawa is a particularly lucrative spot for recruiting these victims. 

"We are not sure what it is that is driving that,” says Staff Sergeant Kal Ghadban with the Ottawa Police, “but for some reason they are in Ottawa because (the girls) can get better paid here.”

The researchers have teamed up with police and Operation Come Home to bring awareness to young people about human trafficking.  Operation Come Home deals with youth at risk. Natalie Elliott is the director of programs for Operation Come Home. 

“Our youth are at risk,” she says, “they're alone, needing friends, family so when someone approaches them with “Hey, you want to have some fun?” it could turn to something else.”

The researchers are hoping to get front-line workers, even hotel staff to identify victims of human trafficking so that these girls can be rescued and their tormenters charged. Wohlbold says they are also working on a 50-minute video on human trafficking in cooperation with Operation Come Home that she hopes will be shown in Ottawa-area highschools.

 Ottawa Police have a dedicated team in place to target human trafficking, with four officers working on the file. It is a pilot project that has uncovered a few high profile cases and led to convictions and jail time.

The full report can be downloaded @