CTV Coverage: MET’s Vulnerable Witness Support

Tamara Cherry, CTV Toronto
Published Monday, October 17, 2016 6:47PM EDT

A new initiative to help victims of sex trafficking navigate their way through the court system began taking shape at a Toronto-area courthouse Monday.

A young woman allegedly exploited by a pimp in the GTA sex trade for more than a year arrived at the Brampton courthouse accompanied by members of Men Ending Trafficking – a Toronto-area group made up of men who advocate against the exploitation of sex workers.

The trial for the woman’s alleged pimp was scheduled to begin Monday, but was ultimately put over until Tuesday.

“We’ve got a real problem in that the young victims are terrified,” said John Cassells of Men Ending Trafficking, a group that has aligned itself with The White Rose Movement and Haven on the Queensway to support victims of sex trafficking. “They’re going to court and they’re being intimidated. Often, they just don’t have the support around them that they need. Everything from wardrobe, what are they going to wear, right down to being able to have the confidence to take the stand and calmly and confidently tell the truth about what has happened.”

The group met up with the woman at the centre of the Brampton trial several months ago – after she had testified at the preliminary hearing for her alleged pimp. It was a process she described Monday as “awful,” given the lack of support she said she experienced in the courtroom.

One of the Peel Regional Police investigators referred her Peel Youth Village, which hooked her up with a support worker who has worked with her since July 2015. That support worker then reached out to Haven on the Queensway, which then hooked up with Cassells and Men Ending Trafficking.

“It feels so good,” the young woman, who cannot be identified, said of the support workers surrounding her at court Monday. “I don’t know what I would do without them, absolutely.”

Eduarda Sousa-Lall of Haven on the Queensway said the support for sex trafficking victims can be simple.

“I come with an approach of a mother with a heart,” Sousa-Lall said. “Just, ‘What do you want to do today? Maybe go to the movies? Go have coffee?’ Just sort of keep it real…Just to let her know that she has become a woman of courage and that we’re here.”

The alleged victim said she wants to testify in court to ensure no other young women are victimized.

“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else, right? And I feel like if I back down, then he’s just going to go out there and he’s going to do it all again,” she said.

“We see time and time again where the victims just can’t withstand the rigors of the court process,” Cassells said. “They haven’t had a voice. They haven’t been allowed to think for themselves and now they’re being asked to go face-to-face with their abusers and speak the truth about what’s happened. That’s extraordinarily difficult. Many of these young victims, too, think even after they do this, will their lives be in jeopardy? So there’s a great factor of fear around these issues.”

Asked why it was important to create a men-only organization to advocate against sex trafficking, Cassells said that many victims have grown up without a father and in situations where they are sexually abused by men.

“They’re exploited by men. The entire sex trade is funded by men who want to exploit them. They don’t know that they can trust any men,” Cassells said. “This is hopefully a very restorative process for them to begin to allow men – safe men and honourable men – to walk alongside them and support them in such a needy time of their lives.”

The young woman in this case is expected to take the stand against her alleged pimp on Wednesday.

“Every day this young woman is in court, there will be men and women who are here in her corner,” Cassells said. “We’re not out to get anybody. We’re not out to intimidate any other party. But we just want to make sure she’s not alone in this process.”

CLICK HERE for the video story by CTV News.

Beer Can Rant

Let’s Talk About Shaming For A Moment

ken-paganBy now you will know all about that guy at the Jays game on Tuesday night who lobbed a partially full can of beer at the opposing team. It nearly hit one of the Orioles’ players! Since that time, a grainy photo of the suspect has been trending, and now that he’s been identified, his name is mud.

He’s done!

It’s rare to see this level of hatred being poured out by not just sports fans, but the general public, as well. Right now, I’d hate to be that guy.

jays-beer-canYeah, tossing a beer was stupid. But contrast that with all the guys in Toronto who did something really bad that day. Take, for example, all the men who funded the trafficking of countless girls in Toronto on the same Tuesday. And after some low life pimp gets his filthy paws on the cash, these guys act as if they had legitimately purchased the right to molest the kids. Like the guy who nearly struck a grown man with a flimsy beer can, let’s talk about the guys who verbally, sexually and physically assaulted a girl half their size; a girl who had no business being in their creepy company, but had no choice. Yeah, I’m talking about those guys!

You want to talk about shaming someone? I say, let’s go after someone who did something like that; someone who actually deserves the wrath of the city.

But, of course, we don’t know who these guys are. And why it that? Because we care much more deeply that an overpaid ball team might have been offended, than the fact that young people are being destroyed right now in the Canadian sex trade. But if we did care, you bet we’d find them. And we’d take much more seriously their calculated violence than what this poor sap did in a momentary lapse of judgement.

For this lack of compassion, all Torontonians should bear the shame. God forgive us.

Witness Support Program Launches

20 minutes under the weight of cross examination, and the young witness buckles. You can only imagine what must be going through her mind: “Aren’t I the victim? Would they like having a gun pointed at their heads? I shouldn’t have said anything. They’re not going care about what happens to girls like me.”

Two MET Team Members at Brampton Court. Photo Source: CTV News

Two MET Team Members at Brampton Court. Photo Source: CTV News

Recounting the details of her hellish nightmare had been hard enough. But being torn apart on the stand was more than she bargained for. In a state of panic, she asks the judge for a short break. Once outside the courtroom, she bolts.

The court had heard how, at 16 years old, the victim was exploited in Toronto Area hotels. Images of her partially clothed body were posted online, enticing sex buyers who prefer the young ones. Saying he used threats and intimidation to control his victim, police laid 13 charges against a 25 year old Owen Sound man, including pointing a firearm, uttering threats and human trafficking. But when the witness didn’t return to the court room, the human trafficking charge, along with most of the others, were thrown out. The accused pled guilty to two lesser offences.

A young victim/witness is surrounded by support during the days of a human trafficking trial.

A young victim/witness is surrounded by support during the days of a human trafficking trial.

Within three weeks of losing that one, another Ontario human trafficking trial will begin in Brampton. Again, a young woman will be required to testify against her former pimp. Statistically, the odds of a conviction don’t look great. But a new victim support initiative might just make a difference. Men Ending Trafficking (SIM Canada) along with women’s outreach teams from The White Rose Movement and Stepping Out (The Haven) are coming together in an effort to back vulnerable witnesses. The strategy includes a visible show of support inside the court room; emotional and spiritual care outside of the courtroom; and encouragement from peers who have successfully testified against their own traffickers.

The young woman who will face her abuser at the Brampton trial says the support has already given her a boost in confidence. If you’d like to learn more or get involved, please contact John Cassells at john.cassells@sim.ca.

UPDATE:  October 25th

100 Huntley Street Interview with Cheryl Weber

100 Huntley Street Interview with Cheryl Weber

After an agonizing cross-examination that spanned three days, the witness calmly emerged from the courtroom.  Admittedly, she was tried, but also feeling elated.  There was, most certainly, no sense of the re-victimization that is all too common to those who attempt testifying against their abusers in human trafficking trials.

Our young friend says the support that surrounded her made a great difference to help her do what she believed needed to be done.  Regardless of what verdict is eventually rendered, this courageous young woman considers her part in the trial as a victory; and that she can now move forward with her life.

While Men Ending Trafficking orchestrated this initiative, it was a group effort that included five other agencies* and two dozen volunteers from local churches.  The group will now develop a template to help encourage more groups to add support for vulnerable witnesses in the courts.

Read More to learn about the reaction from the judge!

Watch CTV coverage of the first day in court and our interview on 100 Huntley Street.

*Special thanks to Peel Police, White Rose, Stepping Out (Haven on the Queensway), Rising Angels, SafeHope Home and Sextrade 101 for working with us on this initiative.