At 14, she met the man who sold her. Now she speaks out against human trafficking
WARNING: This article contains graphic content and may affect those who have experienced sexual violence or know someone who has.
Gabrielle Giroux says she was a 14-year-old girl shopping in an Outaouais mall when she met the man who sold her to human traffickers.
Over the next five years, the man used grooming tactics to establish a rapport of trust and affection. When she was 19, he sold her into an exploitation ring – a ring where she was beaten, raped and forced to have sex for money.
« There were no alarm bells ringing in my head. … Nothing sexual, it seemed good, » Giroux, now 27, told Radio-Canada in a French-language interview.
« The process started insidiously with piercings, small gifts, listening and advice. Comments like ‘You are mature for your age.’
He suggested that she start working at a strip club. One night when she told him she wanted to quit, she said he locked her in a basement.
« He sold me…I didn’t see the sale, but I heard I was sold for $15,000. I became their possession from that point on, » Giroux said.
Giroux said she had to bring in $1,000 a day, working in motels in the Outaouais, but also in other localities in Quebec and Ontario.
Her story reflects broader trends in human trafficking and sex trafficking in the National Capital Region, where multiple jurisdictions can present challenges to combat crimes.
According to Statistics Canada, one in 10 police-reported human trafficking incidents in Canada between 2010 and 2020 occurred in Ottawa, second only to Toronto.
Police in Gatineau, Quebec say the number of human trafficking investigations has doubled in the past two years. Ottawa Police did not provide updated statistics by the CBC/Radio-Canada deadline.
Julia Drydyk, executive director of the Canadian Center to End Human Trafficking, said the centre’s survivor hotline receives most of its calls from Ontario and people who have been displaced along the corridor. road between Montreal and Windsor.
« The police-reported data is just the tip of the iceberg. The vast majority of victims and survivors we work with have many reasons to be reluctant to engage with law enforcement, » said said Drydyk.
Affluent clientele, vulnerable populations
Wendy Gee, executive director of A New Day Youth and Adult Services, said the presence of tourists, diplomats, the federal government and two universities creates a level of wealth where there is disposable income to pay for sex.
« They can be anyone, » Gee said.
Gee said his emergency shelter has four beds and has a constant waiting list of five to 10 young people with constant new referrals. She said she had been referred for a child as young as 12 in the last six months.
Gee said that as the primary service location for Indigenous people in remote and northern communities, Ottawa also brings potentially vulnerable people to the region. According to the Department of Public Safety, half of the victims of human trafficking in Canada are Aboriginal women, yet they represent only 4% of the total population.
« We are on this corridor coming from North to South and we are on the corridor, [Highway] 401, which is very busy,” Gee said.
Isabelle Roy, coordinator with the Outaouais director of youth protection, said trafficking between Ottawa and Gatineau is of particular concern.
« Children and teenagers can cross the border on foot. We have a legal problem in our two provinces, the law is different, » Roy said in French.
Roy said his office can intervene in Quebec until age 18, but child protection services stop at age 16 in Ontario.
Gatineau Police Insp. Mathieu Guilbeault leads the Eteam integrated into the fight against pimping-Ouest. His team works with the Ottawa Police Service, the OPP and several municipal police services in Quebec.
“Even if we maximize our resources, even if we have dedicated teams, we cannot achieve this alone. For this, it is important to establish a good network with our partners,” Guibeault said in French.
Drydyk said traffickers are used to traveling between municipalities where police forces tend not to communicate with each other.
She said Quebec has led the way in developing trauma-informed police units that can coordinate across jurisdictions. Ontario now has a similar unit, but Drydyk said there is still work to be done across the country and between provinces.
« If I die, I die »
When Giroux realized that her traffickers were sending her to Calgary, she decided to run away. She made him move on the way to the airport.
« I threw myself in the back of the van. Again, I was in a very public place, nobody did anything. I said to myself at that moment: if I die, I die » , said Giroux.
« I hit the ground with my eyes closed… Then I got up and ran without ever looking back. »
Giroux said authorities didn’t believe her the first time she reported her traffickers. An investigator didn’t knock on her door until years later, after Guilbeault’s group was established, while following up on complaints from other victims who had identified the same traffickers, she said.
Giroux said the charges took four years to go through the court system.
According to Statistics Canada, court cases related to human trafficking take more than twice as long as cases involving violent crimes, an average of 373 days versus 176.
Giroux wants to warn young people about the risks and realities of human trafficking.
« If I had been told the truth when I was young, when my brain was ready to accept this kind of information, I’m pretty sure I would have been aware of it. And maybe it could have been avoided. “, she said. said.
Support is available for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. You can access crisis lines and local helplines through the Canadian Association for the Elimination of Violence Database and specifically for human trafficking through the federal government. If you are in immediate danger or fear for your safety or the safety of those around you, please call 911.