‘Not a pimp, a manager’: The Toronto Star investigates sex trafficking in Ontario

Matthew Deiaco: "Not a pimp, a manager."
Matthew Deiaco: “Not a pimp, a manager.”

The Toronto Star published an extensive investigative report on sex trafficking in Toronto this week. Reporter, Olivia Carville spoke with a number of victims as well as pimps throughout the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) — what they found was disturbing (albeit unsurprising to anyone who follows this issue) and really throws a wrench into liberal pro-prostitution arguments.

Trafficking is rampant in Ontario and, contrary to popular belief, most victims are not foreign, but Canadian born. The Star reports that “Seasoned detectives and social workers estimate the number of girls being trafficked in Ontario today to be in the thousands.”

While the girls and women are indeed coerced into prostitution, the key method of control is not physical force, but mental manipulation.

One of the victims Carville spoke with was a 27-year-old named Natalie who met her pimp at 23. She was confined to a hotel room and forced to have sex with strangers day and night. Natalie made $30,000 in one month, handing it all over to her pimp, who has since been arrested and is awaiting trial. She says she could have left: “I never really knew what trafficking was. To me, it was always a relationship,” she told the Star. “I felt like he really loved me.”

Even when the girls are free to leave, they’re afraid to. Sergeant Martin Dick told the Star that he found one teenage girl in a hotel room wearing only lingerie and said, “Just let us help you, please.” She then collapsed on to the floor. Dick says, “This girl was crying her eyes out, but she just wouldn’t come because she was so downtrodden and beaten and broken. It’s so hard to walk out that door, because you don’t know what you’re leaving her to.”

While Natalie was an adult when she was prostituted, most victims are underage when they meet their pimps. Jade Brooks was prostituted in a North York massage parlour at 17 years old: “I saw hundreds of clients and I was only a little girl,” she said. Other women and girls are trafficked through GTA strip clubs (something denied by “sex work” advocates) — dropped off and told not to leave the club until they make a certain amount of money. Most were made to work all night and sometimes all day, too. Natalie, for example, had to wake up at 7am for the businessmen on their way to work and stay up for the 3am rush as well. Many more are simply moved around, from hotel to hotel, servicing up to 15 men a day.

These days, women and girls are primarily trafficked in Canada and the U.S. via websites like Backpage.com. In fact, the Star reports that “Of the 359 sex trafficking cases Toronto police have investigated since 2013, every single girl was advertised on Backpage.” In Washington State, three minors who were advertised for sex on Backpage “filed a lawsuit against the company, alleging it aided in them being ‘bought and sold’ as prostitutes,” the Star reports. “Two of the girls were in seventh grade and one claims she was raped multiple times by men who responded to her online ads.” Backpage tried to claim innocence by arguing “it wasn’t liable because it does nothing more than host content posted by others.”

Most of the ads are pretty basic (certainly no john would be able to tell the difference between a girl who was trafficked and the supposed fully consenting, grown woman who spend their days tweeting angrily at feminists and are full of agency, choice, and empowerment), though police say they can sometimes tell who might be a trafficking victim if the girl’s face isn’t in her photo or if they offer “real girlfriend experience,” anal, and unprotected sex or fetishes (ooooh stop with the kink-shaming, coppers!). Some sample ads from Backpage:

“Come play with Chantelle. Less hassle than a girlfriend, cheaper than a wife. Screw Naughty or Nice. I’ll be extra sweet with a hint of spice.”

“Diamond at your service. I always make sure you leave satisfied.”

“My name is Nataly. I am curvy, blond, open-minded and playful.”

“Kylie F–K DOLL. An extraordinary 10/10, beyond interesting, yummy sex doll.”

“Hi, my name is Cherry. I am ready to bring your wildest fantasies to life.”

To be clear, this is why there is a provision in Bill C-36 that makes 3rd party advertising illegal. Not to crack down on the few “voluntary” women who choose to sex sex, but to stop exploitation and to target traffickers/pimps. Considering what we know about these ads and about the reality of trafficking in Canada (and beyond), those who are opposing the criminalization of 3rd party advertising can count themselves as sex trafficking supporters. (Many of whom actually deny trafficking exists, call it a “myth,” or grossly underrepresent the severity of the problem.)

Beyond that, what should trouble these so-called “sex positive feminists” is that real, live, violent pimps are saying literally the exact same thing they are about prostitution.

Matthew Deiaco is charged with human trafficking and is serving time at the Toronto East Detention Centre in Scarborough. He tells Carville: “Sex is a part of life. I think if a woman wants to make money off of it, she shouldn’t have to go to jail [and neither should] somebody that’s helping her. It’s her life, it’s her body.”

Sound familiar?

“Some people don’t want a relationship. They just want to get what they want and go home. No strings attached,” he adds.

Deiaco goes on to say, “Why should the johns be getting arrested because they bought a woman?” Wait. “Bought a woman?” I thought men didn’t talk like that, only abolitionists?? I thought feminists were just making that whole “the sex industry treats women like things — commodities to be bought and sold” thing up? I wonder when the industry advocates who spend their days screaming at feminists will turn their attention to men like Deiaco…

Deiaco explains to Carville that it’s easy to get these girls to fall in love with him and do his bidding. “Most of these girls are broken,” Deiaco says. “You just answer their call.”

This line pro-prostitution advocates keep trying to draw between “forced” and “voluntary,” as I’ve argued many times, is blurry at best. These pimps don’t need to kidnap anyone, they seek out vulnerable girls and sell them “a dream,” as Deiaco puts it. “You find the crack. Some are drugs, some just need to hear ‘I love you’… Knowing someone out there cares [fixes them].”

He is being charged with trafficking, yet the girls he prostitutes technically volunteer themselves. He doesn’t hold them hostage, literally. He merely encourages them to “choose” and supports their “choice.” How might industry advocates explain this? Is what he is doing wrong, in their minds? How might “sex-positive feminists” who want so badly to differentiate between trafficking and “sex work” explain all of this?

The reality of prostitution for most women and girls and the way in which organizations that advocate for legalization try to disguise that reality with manipulative language makes them appear all the more callous.

Like the third wavers on Twitter, Deiaco doesn’t like the word “pimp.” He prefers to calls himself “a manager.” Deiaco smirks as he says this to the camera — he seems aware that he is using the language of “sex-positive feminists” to his advantage.

A shrewd move, to be sure.

Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist from Vancouver, BC. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including The Spectator, UnHerd, Quillette, the CBC, New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and is now exiled in Mexico with her very photogenic dog.