Trafficked at a Club When She Was 19—And It Could Happen to *Anyone*

This Woman Was Trafficked at a Club When She Was 19—And It Could Happen to *Anyone*

Sydney Loney   2019-01-31

A recent photo of Markie Dell, now 26. She was trafficked as a teenager when a co-worker invited her to a night out at a club in Toronto, a ploy to put the 19-year-old in her debt. Dell was forced to make her pimps $1000 a day by dancing at strip clubs—and worse. (Markie Dell)

The club was big. It had two floors and, that night, it was packed. Although the room was dark, lights flashed and were reflected in mirrors along the walls. The air was stale and smelled of drugs. On one of two stages, Markie Dell danced to hip hop songs and stared straight ahead. She let the lights blind her, trying to ignore the breath of unknown men on her bare legs as they leaned toward her on the stage.

It was the spring of 2011. The tall 19-year-old with long legs, dyed-black hair and freckles muted by a fake tan was being forced to strip at a club in Niagara Falls, Ont., as she had been for the past five months—but that night, Dell saw a chance to escape.

She had confided in a client who promised to help her and she knew he was parked out on the street. When she noticed that the two women assigned to watch her were busy giving dances, Dell realized it might be her only chance. Dancers aren’t allowed near the front door, but as soon as her set was over, out the front door she ran, still in her eight-inch heels and pale pink two-piece outfit.

“I was so scared. There was always someone watching and I didn’t know what would happen if they caught me. I ran right through the crowd of men waiting to get in, and I didn’t look back.”

Her client drove her to a motel down the road. But Dell soon discovered that her rescuer was no fairy-tale knight in shining armour—and that her ordeal was only just beginning.

Human trafficking isn’t what you think it is

Many people have human trafficking confused with human smuggling, which is the illegal entry of a person into a country; trafficking actually means controlling a person for the purpose of exploiting them. Usually, that exploitation is sexual and the person being exploited is a woman or child.

If you ask most Canadians, they’d say they’re horrified that trafficking exists, but relieved that we live here, where things like that don’t happen. After all, other nations call us “nice.” This isn’t the kind of place where men and women entrap teenagers, then move them from city to city, buying and selling them as modern-day sex slaves. Or one where people discover that it’s happening—and don’t do anything about it.

But Canada is exactly that kind of place.

Over 90 percent of the girls being trafficked in Canada were born here, and experts suspect there are thousands of them. (Because trafficking is a hidden crime that’s tough to track—and was only recognized as a criminal offence in Canada in 2005—there are no definitive national numbers.) The average age at which exploitation begins is 13; the average age of rescue, if a girl is rescued at all, is 17. Given the statistics we do have, you’d think there’d be a massive public outcry. But this is the kind of problem we’d prefer to pretend doesn’t exist, although that’s getting harder to do.

Human trafficking is now the fastest growing criminal industry in the world. It’s very lucrative, and business is booming, says Shae Invidiata, founder of Free Them, a Toronto-based anti-trafficking organization that has helped rescue 500 victims (and counting). “One girl in Canada can make a pimp $300,000 a year,” Invidiata says. “It’s happening everywhere. Whenever I give a talk at a high school, someone will come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t know this is what it was called, but I think it’s happening to my friend.’”

Also watch: ‘Girl epidemic’ highlights human trafficking (Provided by CNN)

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‘Girl epidemic’ highlights human trafficking

This past December alone, a 29-year-old man was arrested in Yellowknife for trafficking a woman from Saskatchewan; three men (two 18, one 20) were arrested for allegedly luring and prostituting a 14-year-old girl in hotel rooms across southern Ontario; and in Calgary, police were searching for a 29-year-old woman who, with three teenage boys for accomplices, held a woman captive and forced her to have sex with 10 different men over five days.

It’s gotten to the point where, last February, the Edmonton Police Service changed the name of its Vice unit, which historically referred to a police unit charged with investigating “moral crimes,” including gambling, the illegal manufacture or sale of alcohol and adult entertainment, to the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit. “Traditional ‘vice’ work is not what we do now,” says staff sergeant Dale Johnson. “It’s all sex industry and trafficking.”

How a girl gets trafficked

Just over a year ago, the Edmonton Police Service arrested a man in Edmonton who had previously served time for drug trafficking, but had expanded his business. After forming a relationship with an underage girl by plying her with new clothes, makeup and promises of a future together—a so-called grooming process that often only takes a couple of weeks—he pimped her out to men more than twice her age. “We believe that, while he was in jail, the accused learned that selling women is potentially easier, more profitable and more covert than selling drugs,” says Cory Kerr, a detective in the Unit.

The youngest victim they’ve rescued so far was 13, the oldest was in her 30s. “It can happen to anyone who finds themselves in a vulnerable spot and falls victim to a persuasive personality,” Johnson says. “I’ve seen intelligent, articulate, self-aware women who suddenly find themselves in situations they could never have imagined.”

Girls and young women from all socio-economic backgrounds are hunted in malls, coffee shops, movie theatres, outside their schools and, increasingly, online. “Don’t fool yourself into thinking this couldn’t be your sister, your daughter, your niece,” Invidiata says. There have been cases where girls were picked up from school, still in their uniforms, pimped out, then dropped off at home. They may be too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone, or may not even realize they’re being exploited.

Also watch: Actress AnnaLynne McCord fights to end human trafficking (Provided by Breakfast Television)

“I told people, ‘I’m new, I don’t want to do this,’ but no one cared”

Dell was trafficked within 24 hours. Already vulnerable (she was a shy kid with few friends and had been sexually exploited by her boss at a part-time job when she was 16), she was waiting tables in her hometown of Hamilton, Ont. when a coworker she didn’t know well told her she seemed cool, and invited her to a party in Toronto.

Dell came from a relatively sheltered, middle-class family. She had never heard of trafficking and didn’t know what a pimp was. She was living with her father at the time, but the relationship was rocky. Her mother had left home three years earlier and her dad, always “the cool parent,” had become really strict. “I just packed a bag and didn’t even tell him where I was going,” Dell says. Her new “friend,” a Black woman with a blonde weave, perpetually polished nails and a penchant for crop tops who we’ll call Kayla, picked Dell up in a rental car. They drove to Kayla’s apartment, where they were joined by a couple of her friends, had a few drinks and got ready to go to a club. It seemed like a fun, typical night out, but the next morning, Kayla turned ugly. She informed Dell that she owed her $600 for the car rental, the club entry and the drinks—and she got angry when Dell said she didn’t have the money.

Also watch: Ticket agent rescues teen girls from suspected trafficking plot (Provided by People)

Ticket Agent Rescues Teen Girls from Suspected Trafficking Plot