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4 teens rescued from sex trafficking, 3 teens facing charges: police

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Four teenage girls have been rescued in a months-long human trafficking investigation and three teens are facing charges, police in Edmonton announced on Thursday.

The Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team (ALERT) says a 13-year-old girl, who was reported missing earlier this year, was one of the victims.

"In April of 2023 Edmonton Police Service patrol members were contacted regarding a missing person’s complaint of a 13-year-old female. The investigation led members to a south side hotel, where they discovered that this missing person was being exploited from that hotel," Staff Sgt. Chris Hayes of ALERT told reporters on Thursday.

Hayes says the girl was lured through social media.

"A lot of this was facilitated over Snapchat," he said.

"It was a way for the accused to contact the girls, a way to help with the luring process and procure them and help get them interested in being involved in this situation."

ALERT took over the investigation after the girl was rescued, and in August three people were arrested.

Three other girls were also rescued.

Hayes says some of the girls had been trafficked for up to six months by the time they were rescued.

On Oct. 12 three teens were charged. 

Obinna Nwanekezi, 19, is facing 22 charges, including:

  • trafficking a person under 18;
  • procuring a person under 18;
  • luring a child;
  • sexual exploitation;
  • material benefit from trafficking a person under 18;
  • making child pornography;
  • distributing child pornography;
  • possessing child pornography;
  • agreement/arrangement of sexual offence against child; and
  • assault.

Jelani Ried, 19, faces 21 charges, including:

  • trafficking a person under 18;
  • procuring a person under 18;
  • luring a child;
  • sexual exploitation;
  • material benefit from trafficking a person under 18;
  • making child pornography;
  • distributing child pornography;
  • possessing child pornography; and
  • agreement/arrangement of sexual offence against child.

A 17-year-old, who cannot be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, has also been charged.

Two of the accused have been released under strict conditions, Hayes said, the third remains in custody.

All of the victims are receiving support from partner agencies.

The victims were lured with the promise of trips or fancy clothes, Hayes said

"These traffickers are very good at what they do."

"There's always promises of a lavish lifestyle, of easy money."

Hayes says it's important for parents to monitor their children's online activity and know who their friends are.

"Be involved, know who they're talking to, ask them questions, be involved in their social life. It’s hard, but it's so important."

"It's very alarming how easy it is for these traffickers to put information out on social media and to really prey on these victims."

Mary Jane James of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton says it's becoming more common to see young people fall victim to sex traffickers.

"The victims are younger and younger. And their predators are smarter and smarter. And they know what they're doing. They know how to groom, they know how to attract it," James told CTV News Edmonton.

"Let's face it, most young people are on social media and at one time or another it's going to happen that someone manages to get in touch with them through that platform and starts out by being their friend, and then it just goes from there."

James echoes Hayes' advice of being aware of your children's online activities and keeping an open dialogue.

"Tell them that there is never anything that they can't tell you, that what's happening to them, they're not going to be in trouble. There is going to be no repercussions. If these children feel that they have a safe place to land when they need to tell someone, they're more likely to do that." 

Anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault or abuse can report it to the Edmonton Police Service by calling 780-423-4567 or 911 if they are in immediate danger.

Anyone who needs support is encouraged to contact the Safety Network Coordinator with the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE) at 780-471-6137.

There is no time limit on how long a victim has to report a sexual assault in Canada. 

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