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The allegations

Two recent Facebook posts have gained popularity over the past week detailing the operation of a sex trafficking ring that has reportedly been targeting young women walking on and near Spadina, between Queen and College. One post involved the victim being dragged into a van and thankfully saved by a nearby employee. At this time it is unclear whether or not both posts are describing the same assault. Both also state that upon the arrival of the police, the victims were allegedly told that a trafficking ring working locally was under current investigation.
 
One of the posts was deleted by the original poster within a few hours of going up, as it included details about a victim without her permission. The other, describing an event at Queen & Spadina stayed up, and was copied and shared widely throughout Toronto community groups including various BUNZ Facebook pages.
 

The down-low

Though these posts were worded in a way that made this information seem authoritative, all information that is publicly available on the topic at this moment is based on one testimony.
 
Upon interrogation, a member of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Media Relations Unit gave the following statement:
 
“I have spoken with our Human Trafficking section of the Sex Crimes Unit and the division in which this allegedly occurred. They are unaware of any sex ring [in the relevant Facebook posts]. Notwithstanding, women should remain vigilant, but moreso, people should be respectful and not commit sexual assaults.”
 
However, despite the TPS’s denial of the allegations, the situation remains unclear. Another testimony came forward with a report of an event that happened at Dundas & Markham around April 8, 2015, in which “a minivan came screeching around the corner with the side sliding door wide open, going up the one way street the wrong way.” The witness also saw a young woman sitting in the back of the van, screaming for help.
 
Notably, a woman also went missing in the Dundas & McCaul area. However, neither this incident nor the van incident at Dundas & Markham have been concretely linked to the alleged sex trafficking ring.
 

What this means

There is no conclusive evidence either way. It’s possible that the social media storm—which has, at its root, only one source at this time—was caused by these incidents happening independently from one another, coincidentally within the same area, as well as misinformation on the part of the officer, who allegedly informed the witness of this trafficking ring.
 
It is important to note also that it would be highly unusual for organized crime like sex trafficking—which typically targets women in marginalized communities and operates by luring women as opposed to snatching them off the streets—to be working out of a university area. Simultaneously, abductions around Toronto’s downtown core are typically highly mediatized and openly discussed by the TPS. While the events described above—the assault detailed in the Facebook post as well as the other events in that area—are unusual, they are not unheard of and it would not be an outlandish coincidence for them to have all occurred independently.
 
Overall, it seems more probable that this is just a rumour or misunderstanding, that has been blown out of proportion by social media, than that there is organized crime brazenly operating in one of Canada’s most affluent and educated areas. Nonetheless, the lack of evidence makes it impossible to give a confident, conclusive statement as to the existence of this ring.
 

What you can do

Even if the allegations of the operation of a sex trafficking ring out of the Kensington Market area are false, the newspaper does not discredit the testimonies we have been given. If anything, this story—and its popularity on social media—highlights the frequency of violence against women, even in a city deemed as safe as Toronto is. We’ve come up with a few ways that you can help disarm the potentially undue panic that many social circles are currently privy to:
 
1. Avoid spreading misinformation.
When sharing information on Facebook, avoid sensationalised accounts or posts that make the allegations sound confirmed. When possible, share the information directly from a witness. This reduces the duplication of posts and avoids making them seem like separate incidences.
 
2. Stay safe. While it is almost impossible for UTSG students to avoid the Kensington Market area, you should remain alert and guarded, now more than usual. One of the posts describes a fake police officer with a counterfeit 14th division badge calling himself “Paul”—be wary of impostors in the police force as well as surrounding organizations.
 
Between dusk and dawn, U of T has the WalkSmart programme, which will arrange a patroller between any location on the UTSG campus and surrounding TTC stops. To use this programme, call 416-978-SAFE (7233) (we recommend you save this number in your phone).
 
3. If you experience assault, remember that you have the right to self-defend. The more noise you make, the better off you are; kicking shins, stomping on feet, pulling fingers back or hitting the sternum or groin are all relatively easy (and painful) ways to surprise your assailant into letting you go. When they do, run before they get a chance to grab you again.
 
4. If you witness assault, call the police immediately. Make a point of remembering identifying details: if there is a vehicle, remembering the license plate (or even just a part of the license plate) and the make, model and colour of the vehicle will make a difference. Record what you saw—e.g., in the notepad on your phone, on paper or in a voice memo—immediately after the event, as the information will be most reliable. Finally, do not withhold information.
 
5. If you have been sexually assaulted, we encourage you to get a rape kit done immediately at the nearest hospital, before taking a shower or cleaning up in other ways. The hospital will keep the information for a certain amount of time, during which time you can you can choose whether or not to report the crime. The Women In Music and Arts organization has a list of resources for people who have experienced sexual assault online at wimato.ca/survivor-resources.
 
6. If you have any additional information, such as a statement from an officer or you have witnessed or experienced one of these assaults, please get in touch with us at thenewspaper@gmail.com. We’ve been trying to find out what we can to help keep the U of T community (and its surrounding area) safe by dispelling misinformation. We will keep all personal information confidential.
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