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This Couple's Daughter Was Sex Trafficked and Murdered

Posted: 12/04/2013 12:43 pm

Most adolescents, it seems, go through some sort of teenage rebellion. For some, rebellion means wild hair and piercings. For others, it's tattoos and skipping classes, or (for the early habit-forming types), it's drinking and smoking. From there, things get progressively darker -- drugs, sex, running away, or worse -- being taken.

For Ed Smith, every parent's worst nightmare has been his family's reality for the past two decades.

Ed's daughter, Cheri, was a typical pre-teen in a supportive Christian home. Maybe even above average. She was involved in church and was a leader in her youth group. She was a peer leader at school, and sang in the city junior choir. With loving siblings and caring parents, she was part of an "ideal" middle-class Canadian family.

But everything changed in the ninth grade.

Halfway through her first year of high school, Cherie's behaviour changed drastically. Her clothing changed, and she became defiantly disrespectful. Her parents took her to a counsellor, whose advice was to "just love her and she'll get through it." Many years later, her parents would learn that she had been sexually assaulted by a peer in her youth group.

At age 17, Cheri attended the summer fair in Regina, where she met a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, 18-year-old-boy.

"She came home and declared that she was in love," says Smith. "Within weeks, she packed her bags. She told us that her boyfriend was going to be coming into some money soon, and then she was gone. We had no legal way to keep her at home, and she left us crying on the doorstep."

"As I watched your film, it was so obvious," Smith says. "My daughter was trafficked by the typical 'lover boy' scenario -- a guy poses as a boyfriend, drives a wedge in the family, and takes off with the girl."

The boyfriend, it turned out, was a "popcorn pimp" -- a newly-minted trafficker -- and he reported to a higher-up pimp in Montreal. The pimp's sister, also a working girl, taught Cheri the ropes. "He took her to Edmonton, and turned her out on the streets."

Two weeks went by, and Smith was contacted by the Calgary police -- the pimp had been moving her from city to city, but his daughter had been picked up on an under-age street crawl.

Smith brought his teen home, but her pimp had heavily addicted her to drugs (a common practice with "new girls"), and she tried to turn tricks from the family home. She ran away two weeks later, as soon as her pimp was released from jail.

Cheri worked all winter as a street-walking prostitute on the windy streets of Winnipeg, continuing to support her trafficker. The police sent her back home again and Smith tried to get her into drug rehab, but had no legal ability to keep her there. She started selling sex in Regina, but she never had two dimes to rub together -- between the drug addiction and her pimp, she lived in destitute conditions.

"We used to drive around town, just looking for her. We'd take her out for coffee on cold nights, and she'd tell us that she loved him, that he needed her, and that she'd do whatever he asked."

After a few weeks of not feeling well, Smith convinced his daughter to see a doctor. She was pregnant, and she had an STD. In light of her age and illness, the doctor suggested an abortion, but Cheri insisted on keeping the baby. She was convinced that, when her trafficker's baby was born, he'd let her stop selling sex.

"She continued to turn tricks while pregnant," Smith said. "She was arrested again, but didn't show up in court -- pimps don't exactly want their girls testifying, and will go to great lengths to keep them from the witness box."

The pimp moved her to Victoria along with a couple of other girls, and Cheri's phone calls stopped.

"My wife spent two weeks looking for her. Many of the street-walking girls knew Cheri, but no one knew where she was. One of the girls had even filed a missing persons report, but the police never notified us. Cherri was six months pregnant at the time, so we just waited. And waited and waited. We suspected that she'd get in contact when the baby was born."

A few weeks later, the police arrived at their door. They reported that a man had been horseback riding in Saanich, just north of Victoria, and had come across the remains of a body. Cheri had been beaten to death, along with the baby inside her.

Just two weeks after her 18th birthday, it was all over.

"No one has ever been charged," Smith reports. "The police had a couple leads, but never ever materialized. They're quite certain it was a john."

In the years since Cheri's death, they've told her story over one thousand times. The pain of Cheri's death and the fight to try and stop sex trafficking has taken an emotional and physical toll on their family. "As we started to tell our story, we started getting phone calls from other parents with kids in similar situations," Smith says. "We have a massive trafficking problem in our nation."

Smith has strong thoughts on the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada, an issue currently before the Supreme Court of Canada.

"I'm very much opposed to full legalization," says Smith. "Even within a legal context, prostitution still would have destroyed Cheri's life. I'm part of Freedom Catalyst Regina, and I work with the John Schools here in Regina and in Saskatoon, and I hear prostitution survivor stories on a regular basis. Prostitution has demolished all of them -- their outlook for a normal life is pretty much obliterated, even with the best counsel and support."

So what should Canada, and every other nation, do to combat trafficking and prostitution?

"I'm very much convinced that we need to bring the Nordic Model to Canada -- these girls need support and services, and we definitely need to go after demand. If we criminalized demand, less people will pay for sex. If no one paid for sex, no one would have pimped my daughter. If demand dried up, my daughter would still be alive today."

For Smith, the nightmare can never be undone. But it can be prevented for other families. Like the rest of the abolitionist community, he's on a mission to prevent as much sexual exploitation as possible.

"We need to wake up," Smith says. "We need to end the nightmare."

ALSO ON HUFFPOST:

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  • New York City

    New York City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito places a child's shoes onto a stack children's shoes, used as a symbol for child sex trafficking, during a protest rally outside the Village Voice on Thursday, March 29, 2012 in New York. A coalition of religious and civic leaders demanded that the Village Voice stop running their adult classified section. The protesters say the section is being used by sex traffickers peddling underage prostitutes. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

  • New Mexico

    This undated photo provided by New Mexico Attorney General Gary King

  • Kinshasa, Congo

    A 12-year-old prostitute cries in a medical center in Kinshasa, Congo, on Nov. 7, 2010, after she was stoned by another child prostitute. More than 20,000 children live in the streets of Kinshasa, a city of about 10 million. About one-third have been accused of witchcraft and rejected by their families -- a recent development in a society being undermined by poverty. (Photo credit: Gwenn Dubourthoumieu/AFP/Getty Images)

  • England

    A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale, England, after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on Jan. 11, 2011. Greater Manchester Police arrested nine men as part of an investigation into sexual exploitation and questioned them on suspicion of rape, inciting child prostitution, allowing premises to be used for prostitution and sexual activity with a child. (Photo credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

  • Guatemala City

    Firefighters help rescue a prostitute after she became trapped in a tunnel from an offensive against human trafficking at the Super Frontera bar late on April 21, 2012, in Guatemala City. (Photo credit: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images)

  • United Kingdom

    Undated handout composite image issued Tuesday May 8, 2012, by Greater Manchester Police showing eight of the nine men who have been convicted for luring girls as young as 13-years old into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs, top row left to right, Abdul Rauf, Hamid Safi, Mohammed Sajid and Abdul Aziz, and with Bottom row left to right, Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan. The nine men aged between 22 and 59 are convicted of charges including rape, assault, sex trafficking and conspiracy and will be sentenced Wednesday May 9, 2012 at court in Liverpool, England. The ninth man in the group, a 59-year-old man cannot be named for legal reasons. (AP Photo / Greater Manchester Police)

  • Thailand

    On Aug. 18, 2009, a bar girl waits for customers outside a bar in Sungai Kolok in Thailand's southern province of Narathiwat. The sun hasn't set, but already the music is pumping and the disco ball is rolling in the Sumtime Bar, where Malaysian men are enjoying the drinks and women available on this side of the Thai border. (Photo credit: Madaree Tohlala/AFP/Getty Images)

  • China

    Chinese police watch over a group of massage girls suspected of prostitution during a June 21, 2011, raid in Beijing, part of a vice crackdown ahead of celebrations for the founding of the Chinese Communist Party 90 years ago. Rapid social and economic changes have made China "prone to corruption." and the ruling Communist Party faces a major challenge stamping out deep-rooted official graft, an official said on June 22. (Photo credit: STR/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bangladesh

    A Bangladeshi sex worker takes an Oradexon tablet in a government-registered brothel in Faridpur, some 100 kilometers (60 miles) outside Dhaka on June 20, 2010. Whenever Bangladeshi brothel owner Rokeya, 50, signs up a new sex worker, she gives her a course of steroid drugs often used to fatten cattle. For older sex workers, tablets work well, said Rokeya, but for younger girls of 12 to 14 -- who are normally sold to the brothel by their families -- injections are more effective. (Photo credit: Munir Uz Zaman/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Paris

    A man demonstrates with prostitutes and members of the Union of Sex Workers on June 2, 2012, at Paris' Pigalle square, asserting their rights to work with dignity and respect. (Photo credit: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Nicaragua

    Wendy, a Nicaraguan sex worker and member of NGO Girasoles Nicaragua (Nicaragua Sunflowers), waits for clients on a street in Managua on April 18, 2012. (Photo credit: Elmer Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Virginia

    In this Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2011 photo, Holly Smith, 33, looks out form her porch after talking about her experiences when she was caught up in a child sex trafficking ring during an interview in her home in Richmond, Va. A new report says 41 states have failed to adopt strong penalties against human trafficking, and advocates say a patchwork of differing state laws makes it difficult for authorities to target the crime. Smith said a man at a mall promised her a job after she ran away from home at age 14. She said she was swiftly brought to a motel where two adults gave her a dress, put makeup on her face and dyed her hair.

 

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