His name was Owen, but he called himself Staxx – street-slang for a pile of money.
She was 14 when she met him online, at a vulnerable time in her life, and they talked regularly through Instagram and Snapchat. Eventually, the 20-year-old took her to meet his parents in East Preston, N.S.
Not long after, however, the sexual assaults, threats, violence and prostitution started.
In Halifax provincial court Friday, Owen Ross Gibson-Skeir, now 21, was sentenced to seven years in prison.
He was arrested a year ago and pleaded guilty in December to three charges – two counts related to human trafficking and one count of sexual assault.
“There is nothing more heinous, more offensive and degrading than the selling of children for sexual services,” Crown attorney Catherine Cogswell told court. “That’s as low as humanity gets.”
When Gibson-Skeir was charged, an investigator in Halifax said it had been decades since such a young victim of prostitution had come forward to seek help from police.
“Human trafficking is a combination of physical and emotional torture,” Cogswell told the court. “How does a person recover from being bought and sold and emotionally, physically and sexually tortured? I’m not sure. But I do have hope for the young women coming forward now.”
The girl sat at the back of the courtroom with her parents. She chose not to make a victim impact statement.
Gibson-Skeir sat motionless Friday while the statement of facts was read into the court record, a swarm of tattoos climbing up the side of his neck and a tiny, blue butterfly fluttering just below his right eye. He declined to say anything when asked if he would like to address the court.
The young victim met Gibson-Skeir in late 2015, and by January of 2016 he was her pimp, the Crown attorney told court Friday.
For two months, the girl was forced into the sex trade by a man who described himself as a member of the Blood gang in East Preston, a half-hour drive east of Halifax, Cogswell said.
Gibson-Skeir took explicit photos of the girl, posted them on a classified website and then arranged all of her liaisons – mostly at local hotels and an apartment.
He took all of the money she earned, and she took to stealing food and clothing.
To keep her in line, he slapped her face, pulled her hair, slammed her against a refrigerator and choked her so forcefully that it left his handprint on her throat, the Crown lawyer said.
As for the men the girl had sex with, they would often ask how old she was.
“No one did anything about it,” said Cogswell. “This is one of the more shocking aspects of this case.”
At one point, the girl was injured in a car accident, and hospital staff noticed she had been cutting herself. She was kept there for six days.
Her family tried to intervene, but she returned to East Preston with a cast on her arm.
Gibson-Skeir told her she couldn’t make any money like that, so the cast was pulled off.
The pain he caused that day marked a turning point for the girl, court heard. She returned home and the police were called.
But her ordeal wasn’t over.
“He became increasingly violent in his messages to her,” Cogswell said, quoting from one text message that read: “You need to come back to your daddy.”
When that didn’t work, Gibson-Skeir demanded a $10,000 exit fee, and he threatened the girl’s parents by sending a picture of himself holding a handgun.
Judge Claudine MacDonald told the court the accused would have received a longer sentence had he not pleaded guilty to the most serious charges.
“In terms of the degree of violence, threatening behaviour and the effort you took to maintain control over this child, this is a significant aggravating factor,” MacDonald said to Gibson-Skeir.
“What is remarkable here is that despite everything that this child endured … as a result of your actions, somehow she was able to summon the inner strength and resoluteness of will … and free herself from your control.”
Outside court, Cogswell said the conviction and sentencing was a first for Nova Scotia under the federal human trafficking law introduced by the previous Conservative government in 2014. That version of Canada’s law on prostitution includes a mandatory-minimum sentence of five years for those convicted of prostituting anyone under 18.
Police said that after his arrest, Gibson-Skeir described himself as a pimp and a gang member.
“I saw it as an easy way to make money,” he told police. “They all showed me how to do it.”
Court heard he had a rough upbringing before he was sent to a foster home. The Crown said he started smoking marijuana and hanging out with men in their 20s when he was 12 years old. His criminal record includes 59 convictions as a young offender and an adult, including robbery and firearms offences.
His sentence was reduced to five years and six months to account for pre-trial custody.
On Dec. 21, 2016, the day he pleaded guilty to his crimes, Gibson-Skeir looked toward the victim as he was leaving the courtroom and made a gesture as if he was firing a gun in her direction.
He was later charged with uttering threats and intimidating justice officials, but those charges have yet to be dealt with in court.