By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG – A woman was held captive, tortured and forced to work as an escort in a case Winnipeg police say shows the damaging effects of human trafficking.
“She was locked in a full-size freezer a number of times, lost consciousness when she was in there a number of times due to lack of air, she doesn’t know if anyone is ever coming back,” Const. Rob Carver said Thursday.
“It is, from my view, a true example of torture.”
Police say the woman was forced to travel from southern Ontario to Winnipeg. Over the next four months, she was tormented physically and psychologically.
On top of being locked in a freezer, police said the woman was also assaulted with electric shocks.
She was finally able to escape to a police station and get help.
Police arrested a 29-year-old Winnipeg man Sept. 2. Andres Michael Pavao faces a dozen charges including trafficking, assault, forcible confinement, overcome resistance by attempting to choke or suffocate and assault with a weapon.
Carver said the severity of the case is uncommon, but people are being exploited on Winnipeg’s streets.
“The johns float through life, often without feeling the effects of the torture this woman endured,” he said. “But I think as a city, certainly as a community, we can’t bury our heads in the sand and think this only occurs somewhere else.”
Joy Smith, the founder of the Joy Smith Foundation, which raises awareness about human trafficking, said sexual exploitation is alive and well in Canada. She first became aware of the issue from her son who was working as a police officer in the Integrated Child Exploitation Unit.
“It happens everywhere. It happens every single day and it’s brutal. It’s horrible,” said the former Winnipeg Member of Parliament. “This happens a kilometre from where you are sitting right now, from where I am sitting right now. It is so prevalent.”
A Statistics Canada report released in June said the number and rate of human trafficking incidents in Canada have steadily increased since 2010 but it remains underreported. Victims are usually in a physically or socially vulnerable position and often traffickers will implicate them in illegal activities to keep them from going to police, the report said.
The vast majority of victims in Canada are young women.
Smith said perpetrators target young women by offering them gifts. Eventually the women are separated from their family, friends, school and sports teams before the situation usually turns violent.
“It’s very fortunate that this young woman survived. You know the traffickers brainwash them. They say if you tell anybody, the police will arrest you,” Smith said.
Along with life-altering physical effects, Carver said the woman who escaped in Winnipeg will likely have psychological and emotional wounds that will last a lifetime.
Everyone must make sure their neighbours and even strangers in the community are OK if something seems wrong, he added.
“It’s incumbent upon all of us to realize that we need to do things to try and protect people.”