Waterloo regional police say a Cambridge woman and Elmira man have been charged following an investigation into a commercial sex trade business in Cambridge.
Police started investigating information about the business, located in the area of Townline Road, last October.
An undercover police officer said a new joint human trafficking unit, made up of Waterloo regional police and Guelph police, cracked down on the business, which was run out of a Cambridge home.
According to police, the business was run out of a home near Highway 401. Sexual services were being advertised online.
“It takes a long period of time for victims entrenched in this lifestyle to feel empowered to come forward,” the officer said. “That’s what you saw in this instance.”
A 35-year-old Cambridge woman has been charged with receiving material benefits and advertising sexual services. A 63-year-old Elmira man has been charged with procuring and advertising sexual services, receiving material benefits and human trafficking.
“A lot of times in this circumstance, the accused individuals are very savvy about what they do and you will very often not know that this is occurring in your community,” the officer said.
Police say the identified victim has been given a safety plan and community resources with help from a human trafficking crisis intervention counsellor from victim services.
Katarina MacLeod runs a group that supports victims of the sex trade. She said they often hesitate to come forward because of manipulation, abuse and threats.
“These girls have been brainwashed to believe what these traffickers are saying to them and they’re scared,” MacLeod said.
She said many of them don’t even realize they are victims.
“These guys make them believe ‘I’m your boyfriend’ or ‘We’re just trying to build a better life together,'” MacLeod said.
The officer said the pandemic has made investigations even more difficult.
“There just aren’t people out and about in the community to be aware of abnormal activity in their neighbourhood,” the officer said.
Investigators believe there are more victims in this case and possibly other locations.
The investigation is part of a new victim-led model where police collaborate with organizations to support victims.
The two people charged in the case are scheduled to appear in court in March.
The undercover officer said the Elmira man was charged with similar offences back in 2019. That matter is still before the courts.
MacLeod said families can look for signs in victims, like a child not bringing home a new partner or getting a lot of gifts.
“Girls were not coming home for days on end, some moms noticed that their daughters had gone through their lingerie drawer,” she said.
MacLeod added the victims will also often lose interest with things in school and become very isolated.
“A lot of times, people will just dismiss this as ‘Oh, she’s troubled’ or ‘She’s going through something,’ but you’ve got to dig deeper because there is something happening that we don’t know about,” she said.
She also recommended monitoring computer activity, since a lot of luring happens online.
She said people of all ages can be victims of the human trafficking.
Anyone with information is asked to contact the Waterloo-Guelph Human Trafficking Team at firstname.lastname@example.org or Crime Stoppers.
The Waterloo Region Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre also offers resources for victims.