High Speed Hookups
One of the oldest professions is using the newest in social media to move sex work off of the streets in exchange for digital connections. Technology has given sex workers better tools for marketing themselves. Prostitution was once kept a secret, but now it’s become a culture. Today, young girls are lured into the dangerous lifestyle of prostitution by the glamourized portrayal of the industry on social media – and police are doing everything they can to stop it.
The Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit has dedicated time and effort to saving young girls who have been victims of sex trafficking. Specialized Criminal Investigator, Detective Sergeant Nunzio Tramontozzi is one of many officers who works cases like this.
“A lot of the girls we deal with come from broken homes, they have social problems, they have drug addictions and the pimps, the offenders they’re manipulators right,” says Tramontozzi. “[Pimps] see a girl that’s very vulnerable and they manipulate them to their advantage.”
Pimps market these young girls on the Internet.
He says from his experience the majority of girls advertised on websites like Kijiji and Back Page, which offers free classified ads with photos, are being forced into prostitution. “Most of these girls are victims, that’s how we deal with this kind of crime… human trafficking,” says Tramontozzi.
Toronto Police receives tips on youth in Canada who are exploited on the Internet from a non-governmental Canadian website called Cybertips.ca. Cybertips reported, per fiscal year, that in 2012/2013, 26,507 Canadians used the website to report their concerns and access important educational resources – 1,596 less than 2013 and 2014. But in 2002 and 2003 there were only 246 reports.
On social media, he says, the pimps tend to advertise these girls as older, so the potential clients don’t get scared off. A lot of their clients don’t want those young girls. Tramontozzi says the Internet has had an explosion when it comes to prostitution and sex work because more people can view it.
“Instead of the typical old traditional street walker, walking on a corner, how many people are going to drive by them? How many potential customers are they going to have? Maybe a hundred if that, there’s hundreds of thousands that look on the Internet,” Tramontozzi says.
He says that’s a big asset to the girls. One advantage these pimps and girls have is that they can hide behind a screen.
20-year-old Rah Major, a single mother with a one-year-old daughter, started stripping eight months ago, having been a prostitute for a few years beforehand.
Major says she advertised in the Toronto Star for $60 a month, and that she also had ads on back-page along with her own personal website.
Back Page in particular has a disclaimer before users can enter in the section for adult content.
This allows the viewer to confirm that they are of age (18 & up) and allowed to view naked photographs in their local jurisdiction; by law. Once the user has accepted, they’re bombarded by hundreds of ads, with a single statement describing the girl and her location.
Some of the girls advertised on Back Page have their face in the pictures, while others show off their bodies and many of the women advertised barely look the age their ads suggests they are.
"I have people who advertise (on Instagram) ...for me, I don't really have to worry about making an account, getting personal."
-Rah Major, Sex Worker
“I have people who advertise (on Instagram)….for me, I don’t really have to worry about making an account, getting personal,” says Major.
She adds that she does have her own personal Instagram, but she doesn’t use it to advertise. “I’m not really social,” she says.
Social Media Expert and Management Consultant Randell Craig says most prostitutes do have a life outside of what they do and once your profile is online in terms of what you do that may be very prejudicial.
“One of the big problems is that once something’s online it’s effectively there forever,” says Craig. “And if someone’s a prostitute, or a university or college student who does lots of drinking, and partying at some point somebody’s going to see those pictures and somebody’s going to make a judgment based on what was on social media several years ago.”
He adds that there is no amount of shielding you can do: That if you’re selling your body at some point your children will see. There’s no such privacy on the social web now and there won’t be years from now.
There is a thin line to tread when it comes to prostitution and child pornography, as many of the offenders lean towards younger girls to the Internet.
Canadian Criminal Lawyer, Ahmad Mozaffari says it depends on who is posting the explicit photographs online. And the factor of age always comes into play.
“If it’s an individual who’s posting (photos) themselves and they are of age and there’s not any issue of child pornography, then individuals can post naked pictures of themselves,” say Mozaffari.
He says individual’s websites will have their own terms and conditions. “For instance Facebook because it’s not a personal website, you’re doing it through Facebook, they have their own code of conduct and terms and conditions. They will routinely take down pornographic material.”
There’s nothing against posting photos online, but there are issues when you’re dealing with people who are not of age.
“If you’re dealing with someone else posting photographs of someone else then you get into big issues of consent,” says Mozaffari. “And if that person is doing that without the consent of the person who’s picture it is, then they get into very big trouble,” he says.
Mozaffari adds if someone is caught posting images of underage children, they will be charged with distribution of child pornography. However, if you are older and it isn’t regarded as “criminal”, you can sue the individual(s) for libel or defamation.
Charges for prostitution differ based on the age of the sex worker, and whether or not the pimp is making a profit from the prostitution.
“Having pictures up even if they are consensual, all those images can give the police more evidence to make up a case against the person,” say Mozaffari.
Tramontozzi says the unit’s biggest goal right now is to educate the public, the judiciary, schools, and everybody in regards to human trafficking. “A lot of people think that human trafficking doesn’t exist here, they think that it’s an international thing, but I can tell you that 95 per cent if not more of the human trafficking that occurs in this city is domestic. It’s all from here,” says Tramontozzi.
Whether online or off, it seems that for the time being those immersed in the world of prostitution may have to fend for themselves.