“Emma” never thought that she would become a victim of human trafficking in her own city, let alone be exploited by her own “boyfriend.”
She recalls that she was in love with her boyfriend, Michael Lopez, who had become a violent and controlling lover, isolating Emma from her friends and family. Lopez forced Emma to work as an escort, posting ads online and paying for them through Bitcoin.
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He took 60% of her earnings at first, but eventually began keeping all of the $1000-$2000 she made each week.
He called Emma his “vaca con leche” — cow with milk.
Emma testified against her ex-lover, who was finally sentenced to five years in prison for trafficking, assault, uttering death threats, and other crimes against the 23-year-old woman. She had suffered from depression and loneliness when she met Lopez in the summer of 2014. He promised her a better life, and she believed him.
The Toronto Sun reports that police are seeing more cases of trafficking victims in domestic relationships:
“Human trafficking is effectively a form of modern-day slavery, through which an individual is forced to perform a labour or service out of fear for the safety of themselves or another,” said Crown attorney Michael Wilson, who prosecuted Lopez.
Det. Const. Andy Medeiros, who has spent the last three years on the Human Trafficking Enforcement team for Toronto Police and was the investigator on the Lopez case, said there are disturbing trends emerging.
“We on the team started to see more women subjected to domestic violence and exploited in human trafficking at younger ages,” said Medeiros.
“There’s a real problem in high schools, especially with the loss of officers in the schools, where we used to get information on vulnerable girls and guys trying to recruit girls,” said Medeiros, a 19-year police veteran.
“The girls feel comfortable with other girls, trust them, while they are working at the behest of the trafficker,” said Medeiros.
Medeiros also mentioned a recent case in which a 16-year-old girl in Toronto allegedly recruited two 15-year-old girls.
“The recruiter wouldn’t name the adult male, 18-year-old pulling the strings. She said to us, ‘How are you going to protect my family in this?’” recalled Medeiros.
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