Yukon RCMP operation sheds light on sex trafficking

Yukon RCMP took part in an operation to target the sex trade, help victims and reach at-risk populations for the first time in February.

Yukon RCMP took part in an operation to target the sex trade, help victims and reach at-risk populations for the first time in February.

And while police didn’t find any traffickers in the territory, they reached out to sex workers to let them know there is help available for those who want to leave the sex trade.

Yukon RCMP partnered with the Toronto Police Service during Operation Northern Spotlight that took place this past February.

Two TPS detectives shared their experiences with Yukon RCMP members.

“We gained a lot of knowledge on (sex) trafficking,” said Yukon RCMP Cpl. John Marinis, head of the specialized response unit (SRU). The SRU deals with domestic violence and sexual assault cases.

Marinis said the RCMP’s attempt to reach out to sex workers was generally well-received, but couldn’t give details because of privacy issues.

The officers also reached out to potential victims of sex trafficking, namely at-risk youth and “show them and the community we can be a trusted source, avenue of assistance for them,” said Yukon RCMP Superintendent Brian Jones.

“One of the goals is to provide them with an opportunity (to know) how they can exit exploitative circumstances,” he said. “We shared experiences from other jurisdictions, pointing out to them some of the pitfalls.”

Both TPS and RCMP officers made presentations to at-risk youth.

Yukon RCMP worked with Yukon Family and Children’s Services and Victim Services to make sure help was available.

The Yukon sex trade industry is rarely discussed, police said.

“It was a little bit of a shock to me,” said Marinis.

“It operates out of the public eye, but it doesn’t operate out of public contact or public interest,” said Jones.

It often takes place on the internet and social media, he said.

“I wouldn’t say we have a full understanding of the scope and nature of it,” he said. “(But) it certainly helped inform us.”

Jones said the majority of sex workers the police contacted were not Yukon residents.

Marinis for his part estimated there were fewer than 50 sex workers in Whitehorse.

Human trafficking prosecutions are complex and difficult, something RCMP members learned during the training session with the Toronto detectives.

For people forced into prostitution, the consequences of coming forward are also potentially more dangerous, Marinis said.

The investigation into potential sex trafficking continues, Jones said.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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