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Toronto human trafficking arrests shine spotlight on popular classifieds site. Sex worker advocates fear another crackdown

By PETER EDWARDSStaff Reporter

Wed., Feb. 6, 2019

 Story here (L**L**t.com mentions)

 

After a series of human trafficking arrests involving the same online classifieds site, a Toronto sex worker says she worries a crackdown on internet sex ads could make her more vulnerable.

Toronto police have charged eight GTA residents with dozens of charges in four separate cases this year involving the website L**L**t.com. In one, police say a 17-year-old schoolgirl was taken to a series of GTA motels by a man with a gun and forced to sell her body to strangers.

The latest bust was announced last week, after police say a man physically assaulted a 28-year-old woman several times, including one attack that left her with broken ribs.

In all four cases, alleged pimps forced women to place sex ads on L**L**t.com and took all of their earnings.

In one, an alleged pimp even threatened a sex worker’s pet, police said.

None of that violence surprises Dave Perry, a Toronto private investigator who was the detective in charge of the Toronto police’s old Juvenile Task Force for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s

“I can tell you stories that will fill your head,” Perry said.

But the Toronto sex worker, whom the Star is not naming because she fears for her safety, said she worries a sweeping crackdown against human trafficking on the internet could push independent adult sex workers underground.

The 30-year-old sex worker, whose real name is known by the Star, is a member of B*****f*y, an Asian and migrant sex workers support network. She said she has been a sex worker in Toronto for two years.

She said sex workers use the internet to vet their potential clients and even ask for references.

“They can screen,” she said. “They can increase their safety.”

Toronto police declined to comment on L**L**t.com. The Star attempted to contact the website by email and at a toll-free phone number listed on the site’s contacts page, but received no response.

L**L**t.com’s terms of use ask users to immediately report suspected human trafficking to police and say the site will cooperate with law enforcement “to the fullest extent possible.”

There’s a major difference between sex trafficking, in which girls and women are coerced into prostitution, and the sex trade where adult women make independent decisions, said Karen Campbell of the Toronto-based Canadian Women’s Foundation.

The 2018 shutdown of the site B**kp**e.com, once a popular host for sex workers’ ads, was distressing for many, Campbell said in an interview.

“It pushed a lot of people back onto the streets,” she said.

Cracking down on online sex ads also won’t help undocumented women who are reluctant to go to police, she said.

“If they were to go to police, they would end up detained and deported,” she said

Perry said the average Toronto sex worker when he was on the job entered the sex trade at age 14.

There seemed no end to men wanting to prey upon them, Perry said.

“We had a mandate to rescue these kids, get them help and go after the pimps,” Perry said. “Every time we arrested a pimp, there were two or three to take his place.”

Perry said fewer sex workers could be seen on the streets after pagers became popular a few decades ago, a change he said made it tough for police to monitor their safety.

“A lot of the girls that used to work the streets were suddenly carrying pagers,” Perry said. “At least when they were on the street we knew them.”

When sex work was more visible on downtown streets, it was easier for social workers to try to help women and for police to keep an eye on their customers, Perry said.

“They may be in a more vulnerable position now because they have no interaction with police,” Perry said. “Prostitutes don’t generally walk into a police station and report intimidation.”

Some Toronto sex workers were local residents while others came from abroad, smuggled into the city on the hopes of getting a job, Perry said.

There was some organized crime involvement, often connected with bikers and strip clubs, he said.

Perry said he fears pimps now use websites to fly under the police radar and exploit women. Some websites are out of the country, presenting jurisdictional challenges for police.

“We’re almost giving a license for pimps to be anonymous and control women,” Perry said.

L**L**t.com, which bills itself as “Canada’s classified site,” automatically redirects to the address l**l**t.cc — using the internet country code of the Cocos Islands, a tiny Australian territory. The contact page refers to Unicorn House Ltd., a company based in Budapest, Hungary.

To post an ad, users are charged a cost ranging from free to more than €2.50 ($3.75 Canadian) — the site bills in euros — depending on region and category.

As of Wednesday, a personals ad for a female escort in the GTA costs the poster €2.65. That same ad in Hamilton costs €1.79; an ad for a male escort in Ottawa is free.

The personals section contains dozens of recently posted ads for male and female escorts across the GTA. Many of the site’s other classifieds categories — including for vehicles, housing and jobs — appear little used.

The site’s landing page boasts it has more than 150,000 registered users and millions of total ads.

L**L**t.com appears to have become more popular since B**kp**e.com was shut down by the FBI last year; before B**kp**e.com, classifieds site C***gsl**t was one of the most popular sites for advertising sexual services.

A study of sex ads on C***gsl**t  released this year by researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, supports the Toronto sex worker’s comments that the internet can make the sex trade safer.

The study suggests that the old C***gsl**t “erotic services” ads made sex work safer by helping sex workers screen out the most dangerous clients.

The internet allowed women to do background checks of clients, even seeking references, the Baylor team found. It also “may have caused outdoor street-based prostitution to transition to the safer, indoor channel,” researchers found.

Scott Cunningham, one of the study’s authors, said in an interview he suspects L**L**t.com is absorbing a market once filled by B**kp**e.com.

“The market is probably adjusting in Canada,” he said.

Cunningham said he wasn’t surprised the Toronto woman said internet ads make her feel safer and freer of pimps.

“Sex workers have been saying this for years,” he said.

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Thanks for posting Melanie.

I fully support LE efforts to stop this abusive treatment of women but have to suggest that most of these issues should have been dealt with if the government had legalized prostitution for adults and not adopted this crazy legal to sell but not legal to buy. 

Legalize the industry and make the lives of sex workers better and safer. If sex work was legal SP's and clients would feel comfortable reporting the bad actors in the industry.

Just my Opinion 

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A disturbing article/circumstance for sure. To the casual reader or someone with no familiarity with the sex industry it would be easy to come away with the impression that leolist (and formerly backpage and craigslist) were the source of the problem. They're not. As Ice points out legalization would help deal with this problem of pimps now making use of on-line sites to further their criminal behaviour. Given the situation we're in with Bill C36 (or whatever the studid legislation's name is) it is critical that everyone do their due diligence: SP's to carry out whatever their chosen screening techniques are very thoroughly and clients to expect and comply with the screening requested of them. If there is no sensible screening requested of a client and the provider has neither an established presence on a platform nor reviews (or better still, reco's on Lyla) I would tend to be very cautious. If a client has strong suspicions of something not being right about a rendezvous there are always 'crime-stopper' lines to use though - this option would need to be used very carefully and thoughtfully given the potential 'pain-in-the-ass' for a true independent or the potential risk to a pimped/trafficked provider. One hopes the police would be able to respond carefully and respectfully. On here somewhere there was a thread that mentioned a very respectful, dicrete and helpful member of the Ottawa Police Service who's MO was to help and support SW's who contacted her.

These musings are part of what always guides me back to Lyla. That being said, I'm certain we have a current member on here (banned twice and now wormed back on to become a true 'power-poster') who has railed against screening in the past. Likely no more than a Troll but still.....

Screenin needs to be done, expected and complied with. 

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The sex industry won't legalize or be decriminalized on its own or with very little noise.

I've stated this before. Only when we all start to fight for change like the cannabis industry did will they even consider changing our current legislation. The real problem isn't that we want change it's that we, as a whole, don't want to take any steps to get there but I understand the taboo associated and for most clients it needs to be kept secretive. We are good at discussing the idea of change, though. 

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I posted this because it DID sound like they were making the advertising sites seem like they were responsible. Most ppl use it with all the laws in mind and with consent given and understood. I was afraid they were going to mention going after the current website to save girls

Also note that these cases are still in the 'alleged' phase. Not proven yet.

As for sensible screening of a client, a legit provider can still be legit even when she/he doesn't ask for name, rank and serial number. I have been offered info from clients to do a screening but it always crickets when I say ok to it. It's a system that not everyone can take part in. Like I used to think it was for providers who knew each, within a circle. Any outliers had to get into that circle to learn how to and take part in screening. Or it was for higher up providers who had the money to pay for a screening service.

Also to call the law on someone when you are making assumptions based on things you could still be wrong about ... even with someone on Ottawa Police Service ... how would a provider who was coerced know where or how to go about contacting them? I once saw a poster in an OnRoute ... it was meant to reach out to offer a place to call. I saw it in one OnRoute, once and never saw it again. I guess they weren't all that interested to carry out the 'campaign' or it wasn't worth to pay for the space to rent for the poster? Or it simple wasn't worth it...cuz no one will call them and they can find these girls on their own without a campaign to offer help?

I'm jaded, sorry. I find organizations that offer help are not usually helpful.

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