Thursday, 2 Feb 2023

A new approach to victims of sexual exploitation: Longueuil police changing how they help

Longueuil police, on Montreal’s south shore, is changing how it approaches victims of sexual exploitation on its territory.

“We’re not talking about the legal aspect of sexual exploitation in this project, but the social aspect,” said Fady Dagher, director of Longueuil police.

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“At the end of the day, what we want is those young girls to know that if they want to step outside prostitution, they’re going to have help.”

The force’s new project, according to Dagher, will focus on a socio-psychological approach to help girls leave the sex industry if and when they are ready to do so.

“Before, the traditional mentality of the police was, ‘Do you want to press charges or no? Do you want to go to the justice or no?” he explained.

“The young girls, most of them don’t need that right away. What they need is food, an apartment, a job.”

He notes a lot of the young women, many of them still teenagers, suffer from low self-esteem because of the way they have been treated.

“You know what? Sometimes they do 12 to 15 clients a day, seven days on seven. Young girls of 16, 17, 18 years old,” Dagher told Global News.

They also have a 40 per cent higher chance of dying young than others because of the substances and dangerous situations they face.

The project focuses on girls between the ages of 16 and 25 who are no longer under the charge of youth protection, but they also have to keep an eye on high-risk children to make sure they don’t enter the industry.

“When we see a young girl of 10, 12 years old being sexually abused, we know there’s a good chance that she’ll jump in, so we’ll try to grab her before she goes in,” he told Global News.

“Most of them, 80 per cent were victims of violence.”

He added that if one day, the young women want to press charges, they will.

“Come to us. We’re going to go talk to you. If you want to come, please don’t think about the justice, the legal aspect. We’re not going to go there,” said Dagher.

“We’re just going to take care of you. We’re going to find you an apartment, a job, we’re going to show you how to take care of your bank account and we’re going to try to make sure that you can step out [of your front door] peacefully.”

Dagher said this new project doesn’t mean the force is forgetting about the other players involved.

“When it comes to the clients and when it comes to the pimp, we’re going to take care of those people,” he told Global News.

“But what we discovered is the vulnerability of those young girls is extremely in crisis right now. We have to take care of them now.”

He added that 70 per cent of 911 calls to his department are about domestic abuse, disputes and mental health issues. He wants the force to undergo a complete change in the way it responds to crisis situations.

“We need much more police officers with more emotional intelligence, how to talk to people, how to approach people and how to be able to diffuse a big crisis. These are the kinds of people we are looking for,” Dagher said.

“I need police officers, my guys, to understand that outside is not black and white. It’s grey, it’s complex. It’s more than complicated, it’s complex. So we need to develop emotional intelligence, not technical intelligence.”

Dagher estimates there are about 100 girls being sexually exploited on the territory of Longueuil, including those who are not working as a prostitute.

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