A human trafficking investigation in rural Ontario has led police to 10 alleged victims — seven who are underage — and investigators believe there may be more.
Ontario Provincial Police said they have laid more than two dozen charges against a 58-year-old man from Oro-Medonte, Ont., including four charges of human trafficking and eight sexual assault charges.
"This is not just a big city crime," Insp. Tina Chalk said as details of the investigation were revealed Friday. "Victims can be targeted anywhere. They are transported on our roadways, across the province and they are forced to work wherever there is a demand."
The OPP has laid 35 human trafficking-related charges since the start of 2016, Chalk said.
A file photo of an Ontario Provincial Police vehicle. (Photo: Getty)
She explained that alleged victims, who are overwhelmingly female and frequently underage, often come from small towns and are taken to bigger cities where they are forced to have sex for money, which is then kept by the alleged traffickers.
In the investigation detailed Friday, OPP said they had charged Isaac "Ike" Crooks with 21 offences earlier this month, including seven sexual assault charges and two human trafficking charges. In the two weeks since announcing those charges, police said they discovered two additional victims and are worried there may be more.
They said Crooks, who now faces a total of 26 charges, remains in custody pending an upcoming bail hearing.
Det. Staff Sgt. Scott Moore didn't go into further details, including whether the victims were women and girls, citing a publication ban in the case.
"Victims can be targeted anywhere. They are transported on our roadways, across the province and they are forced to work wherever there is a demand."
On a broader scale, however, the provincial force is hoping to use traffic stops as a way to enhance their human trafficking enforcement efforts.
Chalk said she is developing training for highway traffic officers to recognize the signs of human trafficking, including whether passengers, often women or girls, are disengaged and avoiding eye contact, and if their identification is being held by the driver.
"We find it important that our highway traffic officers are live to this when they are making their stops," she said, noting that the force recently caught an alleged trafficker and alleged victim during such a stop.
"Is there human trafficking? That's important because it's happening on our roads."
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The following signs may indicate the possibility of child abuse, according to the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre:
Unexplained bruises or injuries, especially in places of the body that children do not normally injure during regular play or movement
A child who is continually hungry, unsuitably dressed for the weather and/or always dirty
Burns which leave a pattern outlining the object which was used to make the burn, such as a cigarette, an iron or an electric stove burner, burns on the hands, feet or buttocks caused by scalding water and rope burns caused by being tied
A young child who is often left alone
A child who is unusually aggressive, angry and hostile to other people
A child who demonstrates withdrawn behaviour, who refuses to participate or dress appropriately for physical activities
A child who shows unusual knowledge of sexual matters beyond their age of development, who exhibits sexualized behaviour around adults or other children
A child who hints or talks overtly about sexual abuse
An adolescent who is extremely withdrawn or aggressive
A child or adolescent who repeatedly runs away from home