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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

‘They picked the wrong girl'

16-year-old blows the whistle on Nova Scotia minors pimped and trafficked
This apartment building at 24 Evans Ave. in Halifax is where a pimp was allegedly selling underage girls for sex. (ADRIEN VECZAN / Staff)
When Hailey started getting into trouble, her parents decided to let her face the consequences.

Their daughter had been sweet and affectionate, with natural smarts.

At 13, she started rebelling. Then Paul and Stacey learned that Hailey’s friend’s mother was giving both girls drugs and drinks. Soon, Hailey wasn’t just a bit mischievous; “she was bad,” Paul said. She started racking up charges in youth court.

Paul, who worked in manufacturing, would take time off and sit on a hard bench for hours in youth court, only to see his daughter appear for two minutes. He gave up going.

“We’re not bailing you out, Hailey,” her mother said.

Things changed this January. Hailey, now 16, was again picked up by police. A constable called and told Paul his daughter was at the station and had asked for him.

Paul, who always took Hailey’s calls, arrived at about 11 p.m.

He watched as his daughter took a deep breath. Police were asking about the altercation that had landed her in custody, but she said she wanted to give a statement about something else, months after officers had first encouraged her to do so.

Hailey, Paul and Stacey are not their real names as there is a court ban on identifying the girl.

Her parents are now preparing to spend as much time on courthouse benches as she needs.

Hailey’s statement sparked the first bust of anyone pimping minors in Halifax in more than a decade. Two more girls have since come forward, and police hope even more will help undermine this devastating industry.

Dallas police talk to two young women — one of them underage — before arresting them for prostitution. That city formed a special unit to identify, reach and save underage girls being lured into the street life. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/ File)
. . . . .

Hailey and her family didn’t know it, but their bad patch meant she was about to enter a system of entrapment that most people never see.

After repeatedly running away, she moved in the summer of 2012 to the Reigh Allen Centre, a Dartmouth group home.

“We didn’t know about group homes,” said Stacey.

“Hailey went downhill right from there. It wasn’t a lockdown. We were under the impression she was going to get this counselling and go back to school and get fixed, pretty much, you know?”

A boy about Hailey’s age kept hanging around the group home. Staff called to tell her parents.

“We don’t think he should be around Hailey and he’s banned off our property,” Stacey remembered them saying.

In the group home, Hailey also met Claire (not her real name), a pretty, petite 13-year-old who had been in the child protection system since she was a baby.

The boy found a way to stay in touch and invited Hailey home to meet his mother. Hailey, who considered him her boyfriend, said in a recent interview that the mother messaged her one day and asked if she wanted to make some money.

Hailey ignored her for weeks, and then found herself desperate for cash last April, having run away from her most recent group home. She was nervous but let the woman set up one client for her, thinking it was an experiment, she said. Suddenly it was happening “all the time,” Hailey said.

“She said, ‘It’s either you keep working or else you can get out of my house.’”

Hailey's letter

The call from the group home wasn’t the only warning sign for Hailey’s parents. As Paul and Stacey learned more, their unease gradually turned into overwhelming fear — not just about Hailey, but about those who controlled her and what they might do to keep it that way.

Early last summer, police showed up at the couple’s door and said bluntly that their daughter had been involved in the sex trade for “quite a while.”

In late July, Stacey heard from Hailey herself through Facebook.

“Hailey inboxed me and told me that she posted herself on Backpage, and she sent me the link to it, and she was naked in all the pictures, except for her face,” said Stacey.

“They won’t show their face, you know? If they’re underage.”

The online ads, using a fake name, mentioned Hailey’s “long, beautiful hair,” and said she was 19. In fact, she had just turned 16.

Hailey said she would meet clients at their homes or hotels, or they would come to the pimp’s Fairview apartment.

It was in a building that has seen at least two recent cases of arson as well as reports of bedbugs. In exchange for the space, and for posting ads and providing a phone, the pimp asked for half of Hailey’s earnings.

After a while, where Hailey lived didn’t make a difference. One time, the pimp texted and asked her to take a client. Hailey texted back that she was babysitting her older sister’s baby and four-year-old. No problem, said the pimp. The client would come to the sister’s house.

After Hailey’s message, Paul and Stacey had a desperate conversation. They called and asked her where she was staying. They wanted to drop off some Chinese food, they said.

They brought the food, then parked at the end of the block, called police and watched them raid the apartment.

“Really, every time we’ve seen her … taken by the police, it was just a relief to know that she was safe,” said Stacey.

Paul said Hailey knew all along that her parents wouldn’t hesitate to call the cops on her. She also knew she was at a turning point.

“After she calmed down, she said, ‘Dad, I’m glad you called the police on me,’” said Paul.

“I said, Why? She said, ‘Because me and Claire, we were going to be on our way to Toronto with North Preston’s Finest.’”

North Preston’s Finest is a street gang that has long been associated with sex trafficking between Nova Scotia and Ontario, particularly the corridor between Mississauga and Niagara Falls.

Hailey was right. A day or two later, Stacey got a Facebook message from Claire, her daughter’s younger friend. The 14-year-old said she was with a friend and the friend’s older boyfriend at a Fredericton hotel.

“I think I am goin to toronto … this weekend,” Claire wrote in the exchange, which was shown to a reporter. “I don’t have a ride back, I jus have a ride to toronto.”

She said they were going to “work for another guy.” Paul recalled something a police officer had said: “If they get anywhere past New Brunswick, you may as well kiss them goodbye.” He and Stacey took turns writing, asking Claire if she could sneak out and meet someone near the hotel.

“Them guys are pigs and they don’t care about you,” wrote Stacey. “They just want the money.”

“I didn’t think I would go this far as fast as I did,” responded Claire.

They said someone would come get her.

“Oh my goodness thank u guys so much, like u don’t understand, thank u,” she wrote.

After a call to New Brunswick police, Claire was found and brought back to Nova Scotia.

. . . . .

The night of the Chinese food setup, police had found Hailey in a bawdy house and had heard from her parents that she was being sold for sex.

They incarcerated her on outstanding warrants or on breached conditions from earlier, unrelated cases. One day in juvenile detention, an officer asked Hailey if she wanted to give a statement about the sex industry, but she said no.

If Hailey and Claire were tempted to talk, they also had real fears. They knew a story about a girl who started “freaking out” on the way to Toronto and was killed and thrown onto the side of the highway, said Paul.

Claire also confided that she thought she was legally bound to her pimp.

“Some guy in Cole Harbour … got Claire to sign a contract and everything, saying she’s theirs,” said Paul. “Claire was scared, thinking, ‘Oh my God, like I signed a contract.’ And it’s like, Claire, don’t worry about it!”

Paul was frustrated. Police said they couldn’t do anything without a victim’s statement. He had tried to help, even posing as a john looking for Hailey. He had texted the 506 area code number she had been using.

Someone responded, using the pimp’s name, and said Hailey wasn’t available but she could bring Hailey another time. Paul took the texts and photos from the homegrown sting and offered them to police.

“I called them right away and told them, ‘This is my daughter, man. This is the number.’”

They told him they hoped Hailey would change her mind and talk.

Hailey got out of detention in August and moved back home. Rachel Lloyd, a New York-based advocate for minors exploited in the sex trade, said they often need intensive counselling to leave their old lives. Once a victim herself, Lloyd said it took years to lose the feeling that her pimp would find her.

“You’re on a bungee cord,” she said. “You can’t quite make that break, and everybody around you is like, ‘Why can’t you just leave?’”

Being locked up had kept Hailey safe, but it had done little else for her. For months she had been making thousands of dollars. During her time in the pimp’s world, she had developed an expensive addiction to cocaine and other drugs.

Her parents took her back to school and drove her around to drop off resumes for jobs that paid $10 an hour. Her friends welcomed her back to their Halifax suburb. But Hailey had trouble adjusting, said Stacey.

“She said to me, ‘It was boring, Mum.’”

. . . . .

Hailey said it will be hard to forget what happened a few months later. The episode shocked her out of the long “daydream” she described recently in song lyrics that she mailed to her parents.

“Money has her controlled, drugs keep her from realizing,” goes the chorus. “The people that she thinks cares, convinced her everything’s OK.”

The girl in the song “had to find out the hard way, anything can happen.”

Hailey had left home again, and one day a friend’s uncle gave her a ride and parked outside a building.

“(He) told me (to take some clients) and make him money or else he’s going to kill me, and I said no,” she said. “And then guns ended up starting coming out, and I will never forget that. Because that’s the very first time that I’ve ever seen guns and all that stuff … and it was all because of me not going (into the building).”

Then last January, Claire was at the pimp’s apartment when a client started doing something to which she hadn’t agreed. She screamed for help.

The pimp, who had never used violence to ensure the girls’ loyalty, didn’t move from the couch in the next room.

“She got raped … by one of the clients there, and she yelled for (the pimp) and (the pimp) just let it go and didn’t do anything about it and ended up taking half of her money for that call,” said Hailey.

“It wasn’t supposed to go down like that.”

Claire, 15 by then, never returned to the apartment. She ended up back in detention, as Hailey had, too. Hailey told her mother about their reunion in the dining hall.

“Claire said to her, ‘Oh my God, Hailey, do you know (the pimp) was in jail? Somebody, like, ratted her out.’” recounted Stacey.

Hailey said yes, she had heard.

“Claire said, ‘I’m so proud of the girl that did that. I wish I knew who it was, because I don’t even consider them a rat, Hailey,’” said Stacey. ‘(The pimp) needs to go away.’

“And Hailey’s like, ‘Really? Well, it was me, Claire.’”

A second girl gave a statement. The police contacted Hailey’s parents, elated. If enough victims did the same, officers said, maybe none would have to testify.

Then Stacey and Paul heard that Claire, who has no family to support her in court, had decided to give a third statement to police.

Hailey said she had slid the lyrics she wrote under her friend’s door. “If you do it,” she told Claire, “I will stand behind you the whole way.”

. . . . .

Hailey said that in nine months of being pimped in Nova Scotia, she came across at least 100 underage girls being sold for sex.

The youngest ones she knew were around 13. If her pimp ends up in prison, other pimps will remain at large in Halifax, she said.

“I know that there’s still people out there, some people out there, who are working girls, that I haven’t worked for myself,” she said.

Dozens of ads for “young” 19-year-olds were posted last week on, many using the exact wording of Hailey and Claire’s old ads.

The last person charged in Nova Scotia with pimping minors appears to be Gerald Pickles, who operated out of a house on Windmill Road in Dartmouth. He pleaded guilty in 2003 after a police sting.

It’s more uncommon for victims to turn in their pimps, who often play on the victims’ existing distrust of police, said Lloyd.

Halifax police appear to have shifted their approach to cases like Hailey’s.

In 2009 and 2010, police found minors in bawdy houses, first on Highfield Park Drive and then on Brunswick Street. Each time they charged a teenage girl with being a resident of a bawdy house. At the time, a police spokesperson said the charge could be used against a client or an employee of the operation.

Last week, Const. Pierre Bourdages of Halifax Regional Police said he had never heard of that charge.

“In this case, these girls were victims,” he said.

“We have information, we got them into a secure area, we got them into a safe place with responsible adults.”

Hailey’s parents are wondering why it took so long for police to break up a child prostitution ring that they knew of well before last January, and why they were so dependent on a 16-year-old girl to risk her own safety and speak out.

“We pursue information when we receive it,” said Bourdages. “Pursuing information and obtaining the evidence we need to be able to successfully charge someone are two things. If we were charging people left, right and centre, then charges would probably not even make it to court.”

Police are asking anyone with information about similar victims to come forward.

However, since Hailey’s decision, her parents’ all-consuming question is why police aren’t living up to that promise to put her in a safe place.

Before she agreed to testify, Hailey was told she would be protected from the people who would call her a “rat.” Police told her she would be sent to a safe house in a different province and would receive counselling and addictions treatment.

While Hailey was in detention this winter, officers asked Paul if the family had gotten threats “yet.” He watched their street from his window one night until 3 a.m., wondering if he should check into the hospital because his heart was pounding so hard.

Hailey told her parents that her pimp’s son had gestured about shooting her. Then she complained to a police officer that she had seen someone who works in the justice system who was once a client — not of hers, but of another minor, while Hailey was present.

“I’d like to get out of here,” she said last week about the youth detention centre.

But when Hailey did leave a few days later she was sent home, as was Claire.

Hailey’s parents panicked. Police said the safe house had fallen through and suggested Hailey could get a peace bond against the boy who threatened her, said Stacey. Officers started driving by their house to check on them and parking down the street.

“There’s a lot of threats going around Burnside jail about Hailey, like, ‘We’re going to get Hailey,’” said Stacey.

Stacey told police she wouldn’t let her daughter testify if they wouldn’t protect her, but they already have the girl’s statement. Bourdages said he couldn’t comment on where the victims in this case are staying.

If anyone came to hurt Hailey, Stacey said, she would get in front of her daughter.

. . . . .

Recently, Hailey asked her mother to change the password on her Facebook account.

“I think she wanted me to go in there,” said Stacey.

She spent hours reading messages between Hailey, her pimp and johns. In one message, the pimp demanded half the money from a recent job — $20. Telling that story in her kitchen, Stacey’s eyes widened.

“You were selling my kid for 40 bucks?”

Hailey said she decided to speak to police on behalf of “all the other girls” working under her pimp.

“I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” she said. “Just the way that I feel, and all the regret and stuff I have from it, how gross I feel of it, I don’t want anyone else to feel that way.”

Stacey thinks the pimp didn’t do a background check when Hailey was recruited.

Almost all the other Nova Scotia girls who get sucked into prostitution are runaways or in foster care, kids who have no one to defend them.

Not so for Hailey. She changed after that call to Paul in January, said Stacey.

“She said she never would have done it if it wasn’t for her dad being at the police station with her and having her back,” said Stacey. “This time we really stuck by her, because it’s prostitution, right, and it’s our baby, right? And (the pimp) is an adult.”

“I’ll tell them anything they want to hear now,” Hailey told her mother.

Tough love landed Hailey in a group home, but it also put her in place to start a fight that isn’t often fought.

“They picked the wrong girl,” Stacey said.

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