Campaign for improved social assistance comes to Hamilton
Stacy has a horrific story to tell.
The London, Ontario woman, who does not use her real name when speaking to the media out of fear of retribution, was a sex-slave, a victim of human trafficking until she escaped from that forced life-style four years ago.
“I was trafficked along the 401 corridor,” said the 49-year-old, who worked as a stripper and prostitute at a number of bars and hotels, usually with biker-gang connections.
Intimidation and threats of beatings from the man she thought she loved were never far from her mind.
Stacy said she was introduced to the sex trade around 2003.
She had suffered through a number of deaths in her family and was feeling depressed, until a friend introduced her to a man she thought was going to make her life better.
“He took care of my needs of all my needs and I fell for him,” she said. “He told me he would help me and make it better and I was in a position where I needed that.”
About six months later things changed.
The couple moved in together and there was a child from the man’s previous relationship Stacy felt obligated to look after.
She lost her job as a sushi chef and later found out the man taken all of her savings and much of it was spent on drugs and prostitution.
With an eviction notice pending, the couple was in dire straights.
“This is when it was suggested to me that I go and work in the bars (as a stripper) to help the family,” said Stacy, who reluctantly agreed. “I was desperate. He had isolated me from all my friends. I had no where to turn.”
Stacy’s life turned into a nightmare.
She began drinking to take her mind of having to perform naked in front of strangers.
“All the while this is happening, you have to smile in the hopes that someone in the audience likes enough what they saw to take you in the back and what I call sexually assault you.”
For $20 a dance, Stacy said customers would put their hands all over her.
“Even though it is consensual because you are allowing it to happen, in your mind you are screaming no,” she said.
The money would be handed over to the man would be sitting nearby counting the number of songs.
“It was terrible, I cried every day for eight years,” said Stacy, who figures most of the other dancers in the bars also had someone controlling them.
She eventually sought help from a Salvation Army shelter who put her on locked floor.
Fearing for her own safety, she decided not to call police and continues to live in Londonwhere she has been telling her story as a warning to high school girls.
She also speaks to the local john school, a police diversion program for men arrested in prostitution-related investigations.
Now surviving on social assistance, Stacy said she’s been taking part-time college courses with the hope of becoming a social worker.
Through her advocacy work, Stacy met up with Lia Renaud, originally fromWoodstock, who now makes Truro, Nova Scotia her home.
The 28-year-old Social Justice and Peace Studies graduate at Western University began investigating human trafficking a number of years ago and was shocked about the enormity of the problem.
“Meeting people who were trafficked and who were tortured, it really pulled on my heartstrings,” said Renaud, who along with Stacy have been travelling across Ontario looking to get 7,000 or more signatures on a petition that calls on the provincial government to provide more help for victims of human trafficking, particularly medical assistance, psychological counselling and housing.
The two visited Hamilton last month.
“Eighty percent of human trafficking is within the sex trade,” said Renaud, who noted the remainder involves forced-labour.
She’s hoping to see the petition presented in the Ontario legislature in the fall.
“I wouldn’t say (human trafficking) is a big issue, but it’s an issue,” said detective staff sergeant Paul Downey in the Hamilton Police vice and drugs unit. “There could be any type of organized crime behind it.”
Downeysaid while victims are often afraid to contact police, there are social agencies and advocacy groups who have street-level contact with victims and eventually their information could end up on his desk.
He encourages anyone who feels they are being victimized to contact Hamilton Police victims’ services at 905-546-4904.
According to Crime Stoppers Canada, the United Nations estimates 2.5 million people around the world are being trafficked at any one time.