There is no way to measure the human trafficking problem in Hamilton. The girls standing on street corners don't even scratch the surface.

There is no way to measure the human trafficking problem in Hamilton. The girls standing on street corners don't even scratch the surface.

She was an A student. A humanitarian who travelled to Africa to teach at an orphanage that housed children born to slaves. She was one of those girls who seemed to tell her mom everything.

Growing up in rural Haldimand County then Binbrook, she was always insecure with boys — she didn’t believe she was pretty enough, thought she was chubby and plain, with mousy brown hair.

“Boys don’t like girls who look like me, mommy,” she once told her mother.

This insecure young girl was forced into prostitution. She is the face of Hamilton’s human trafficking.

For the first time, Hamilton police have launched a dedicated human trafficking unit to combat this overwhelming problem.

It used to be that Hamilton police Detective Derek Mellor would execute a warrant in a hotel room for a drug dealer and his sole focus was getting the dealer. Police often turn a blind eye to the prostitute in the room.

Now, he searches online sex ads, sets up meetings with girls in a hotel room as a would-be John, but when they show up he doesn’t arrest them. Instead he tells them he wants to help, offers to connect them with social service agencies and where possible arrest their trafficker.

Mellor, a 13-year veteran officer, is Hamilton’s first designated human trafficking investigator. His unit began in July and exists within the vice and drug branch. It’s made possible through one-year provincial funding.

Like that insecure girl, many of the victims Mellor helps come from nice families, but there is something that makes them targets for pimps.

When she called home to say she had a boyfriend during her first year at McMaster University — where she was studying with the intention of going back to Africa — mom was thrilled.

“She was more proud of getting a boyfriend than anything,” mom said. Neither woman can be identified because the now 25-year-old woman is an alleged victim of sexual assault and human trafficking. But that boyfriend and others seized on her insecurities and led her down a path of drugs to a hollow place of abuse, violence and degradation.

Mom remembers her daughter called shortly after meeting that first boyfriend. Her tooth hurt and she was afraid to go to the dentist — she was always afraid of pain. She called her mom back shortly after and said not to worry, her boyfriend had given her an OxyContin and “she felt great.”

Mom doesn’t know if it was the first time she took the prescription opiate.

But the drug took her. She dropped out of school and stopped calling home. That boyfriend beat her when they ran out of drugs. He ended up in jail on drug and assault charges. He started her on the path that led to her trafficker.

In her search for more drugs, the streets of downtown Hamilton took her. She fell in love with another bad man who stole her self-worth and sold her in city motel rooms.

In those same city motels, Mellor has been trying to build relationships and rebuild lives. He wants business owners to recognize what is going on in their properties. He wants the girls to trust him enough to ask for help.

At first it’s difficult to get them to trust you, Mellor said. “But once they see you are not going to arrest them, they relax.”

He’s been a lifeline to that young Hamilton woman and her mother — whom he texts nearly every day, keeping tabs on her recovery and offering support.

Mellor said there are three types of universally accepted pimps. The smooth-talking Mac daddy pimp says he loves a girl, takes her out on dates, and treats her well — at first. The guerrilla pimp threatens violence and beats his girls into submission. Then there is the addict pimp who gets a girl addicted then makes her work for drugs.

The young Hamilton woman’s controller had all the trademarks of a Mac daddy pimp — she believed he loved her.

At first mom didn’t want to believe what was going on. She tried to get her daughter help after her first boyfriend went to jail.

But “the addiction runs you,” she said. Her daughter — who had been honest almost to a fault when she was younger — was suddenly lying and telling tales to get to her drugs.

At her worst, it was a $400-a-day drug addiction.

And then last summer she disappeared. After telling mom she was trying to stay clean, she coerced her grandma into paying for her car repairs and fled. She got a new cellphone number.

That’s when she met Boston, her alleged trafficker, and crack cocaine.

Boston’s real name is Yul Styles-Lyons and she believed he loved her. After more than a month without contacting family, she called mom to say she had a new love and everything was going to be OK.

But it wasn’t.

When mom couldn’t get through to her daughter, she called Boston over and over. Finally he called back one day. Pretty much all he would say was: “Your daughter’s a good girl.”

Eventually, mom turned to a friend she had met through her work. This woman had survived more than three decades as a prostitute, after being recruited by a man she thought loved her when she was just 14.

Mom thinks it was God that aligned their paths, because without this woman — this survivor — she wouldn’t have known where to start.

She was the one who gave mom’s head a firm shake and told her straight out — your daughter is being prostituted.

Together the pair went to crack houses, talked to girls on the street and on a few occasions spotted her daughter and tried to get through to her. One time mom tried chasing her in her car, driving the wrong way down a one-way street.

“I just wanted her to know she was loved,” mom said.

It seems that message did finally break through. In September, the young woman tried to leave, but was allegedly assaulted by Boston in an alley. She ran for help to a nearby business, where police were called.

That’s when Detective Mellor entered their story.

Mom remembers clearly when she met him at central station. He had pictures taken from sex ads — each woman’s face was obstructed.

“He asked me if I knew which one was my daughter,” mom said.

She immediately pointed to her girl — 80 pounds, naked, pale and strung up with her arms above her head “like a piece of meat.”

Despite the dramatic weight loss of more than 40 pounds, mom knew it was her daughter

The human trafficking unit has laid more than 80 criminal charges, including against Styles-Lyons, since its inception.

But it is impossible to measure the success of this unit by charges. It’s about a different way of thinking, Mellor said.

“It’s not about solving cases, it’s about helping people.”

While most of the girls are too frightened to pursue criminal charges against their pimp, Mellor talks to many who tell him where they are going to keep safe.

Mellor sees how human trafficking is tied to other crimes. It’s how many drug dealers make money. There are illegal weapons. Violence.

He said he used to think being a homicide detective was the top job, but not any more.

“I want to hopefully prevent a homicide,” he said.

There is no way to measure the human trafficking problem in Hamilton. The pimps are mobile, work out of vehicles and off computers and smart phones. The girls move all over, too.

The girls standing on street corners don’t even scratch the surface of the problem. Most girls are trafficked online, using any number of classified websites.

Pimps are known to stake out group homes. Park outside high schools or go to parties where they look for the girl on her own.

They prey on insecurity.

Since the arrest, the young Hamilton woman has been safe from her alleged pimp. But it’s the OxyContin — an opiate addiction — that she’s struggling to kick.

It’s hard for mom to tell this story. But she also knows it’s important.

She believes her daughter might be dead if it weren’t for Hamilton police. She even begged for a five-minute meeting with Hamilton police Chief Glenn De Caire, where she told him he needs to make the human trafficking unit permanent.

When asked about the future of the unit, De Caire told the Spectator: “Project Rescue is a one-year pilot and we will be reporting back to the ministry with our results, analysis and comment.”

905-526-3199 | @NicoleatTheSpec