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London police arrest 78 in Project Equinox human trafficking, prostitution investigation

London Police headquarters. File photo

A six-month human trafficking project named Project Equinox has led the London police to arrest 78 people, lay 129 charges, and charge 35 people as johns, or people paying for the services of a prostitute.

Police say as a result of the operation between Oct. 4, 2016 and April 1, 2017, 18 women ranging in age from 15 to 55 who were forced into the sex trade as a result of human trafficking, were helped to leave the sex trade and were provided support.

“Human trafficking is a significant problem here in the city of London as it is everywhere across the 401 corridor,” said Const. Sandasha Bough, hailing the project as a definite success.

“There are a number of individuals involved in the sex trade, so the number 18 is definitely something that we’re proud of. However there’s always more out there, more individuals that we can find and we can save.”

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Project Equinox began out of the Street Gang Unit, but it was moved over to London’s new Human Trafficking Unit created on Jan. 1. Officers involved in the project spent time in London, as well as Stratford and Woodstock, while partnering with a number of community organizations.

READ MORE: Ontario legislation would give human trafficking survivors power to sue

The Salvation Army, Children’s Aid Society of London and Middlesex, Women’s Community House — now known as Anova — the Regional Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and the London Abused Women’s Centre provided information about where trafficking is occurring, and support services for victims.

“Collaboration in general is important,” said Karen McGaw, a registered nurse at the Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Treatment Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“We do the forensic evidence collection for those clients who wish to have that done, and that would be something that would be handed over to police to help in their investigation, but clearly only with the client’s consent.”

Project Equinox focused on identifying and pressing charges against johns who were responding to ads, and human-trafficking suspects, as well as identifying possible human-trafficking victims and — if they were in a situation they didn’t want to be in — finding them a safe location away from their traffickers.

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As a result of Project Equinox, police laid four human-trafficking charges and 24 controlled drug and substances act charges. They also seized $8,070 worth of controlled substances, $12,740 in Canadian currency, two knives, one expandable baton, and one rifle.

As for cases of sexual assault or domestic abuse, McGaw urged victims wary of involving police to access it’s 24/7 services and to simply ask questions.

“Coming to our program and accessing our services, that does not mean that there has to be a disclosure to police. And I think that’s important, because there’s lots of opportunities they have for their own health and well-being.”

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