A police force in southwestern Ontario says it will start releasing the names of those charged with buying sex in a bid to curb human trafficking.
The announcement came at a meeting of the Police Services Board in London, Ont., following a presentation outlining why the city is considered a hub for the sexual exploitation of women.
Detectives told board members that London’s position on Highway 401 between major Canadian and American cities, as well as its proximity to many hotels, make it a popular stop for would-be traffickers.
The head of the force’s human trafficking unit says a recent sting operation in which the force placed a fake ad on a site frequently used by those selling sex garnered 9,000 views in a single week.
London Police Chief John Pare says the force has decided to start naming alleged johns publicly as a deterrent measure.
He says names will be shared in all cases except those covered by a publication ban or situations in which revealing the person’s name could identify the victim.
“This is our way to affect the demand and enhance public safety for these victims of human trafficking,” Pare told the board. “This is just a warning … Make better choices in life. This is not a choice that you should be doing and purchasing sex and putting these victims at the risk that they are facing.”
Pare’s announcement was greeted with a smattering of applause from board members.
It came following a presentation by Det. David Ellyatt, the head of the force’s human trafficking squad, who outlined the scope and severity of the issue in the London area.
Ellyatt said the city’s position, nearly half-way between Toronto and Detroit, Mich., is a likely factor in its status as what he described as a “hub” for such activity.
He said 93 per cent of human trafficking victims across the country are women, with roughly half identifying as Indigenous.
While he did not directly address Pare’s announcement, Ellyatt said the results of the force’s recent sting operation highlight the fact that demand is one of the most significant issues his team struggles with in the course of its work.
“There’s 9,000 people looking at that fake ad,” he said. “That speaks to the demand that’s ongoing in our city, by men, to buy sexual services. And that’s a problem that we really have to address.”
Several women’s advocates celebrated the announcement as a step forward, with one head of an abused women’s centre retweeting commendations from like-minded organizations as far afield as Vancouver.
But the move also drew opposition from those who speculated it may place sex workers at greater risk by driving such activity even further underground, as well as those who questioned the effectiveness of the force’s new policy.
“I doubt it will act as a long-term deterrent, since new buyers will arrive to replace the publicly listed men,” one Twitter user wrote.