Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Drugged to stay awake to work in sex trade

Hospital trip required after woman injected

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A young sex-trade worker was injected with crystal meth to keep her awake and working all hours for a clandestine escort service being run out of city hotel rooms.

This is just one alarming fact Winnipeg police uncovered while probing a suspected brothel operation that saw rooms at the Marlborough Hotel downtown and the Thriftlodge on Notre Dame Avenue transformed into prostitution hubs at different points between last August and October.

Details of the unusual case have emerged for the first time as one of two men charged recently pleaded guilty to living off the avails of prostitution.

Robert Gow's admission of guilt came as his preliminary hearing was set to begin in provincial court.

"This offence strikes at the very heart of the disrespect for women that exists in our society," Judge Dale Harvey told Gow, 29.

"Yes, some are from difficult circumstances and having to prostitute themselves to survive. But what you did added another level of degradation to that, and disrespect."

'This offence strikes at the very heart of the disrespect for women that exists in our society'

-- Judge Dale Harvey

The investigation was among the first major ones for the Winnipeg Police Service counter-exploitation unit, which is composed of officers of the former vice and missing persons squads. The two units were merged last year to target human trafficking, underage prostitution and individuals who exploit vulnerable people engaged in the sex trade.

Gow himself was recruited and trained by another man to take part in the scheme, which saw the 18-year-old victim provide "dates" to "dozens and dozens and dozens" of sex-trade clients, court heard.

He was a "secondary player" who helped with day-to-day operations, such as taking photos of the victim to be posted online for ads and renting the Thriftlodge room in his name.

The young woman's services were advertised online and arranged by phone at rates ranging from $60 for 15 minutes to $200 per hour, Crown attorney Scott Cooper said.

Deals would be reached with clients, and Gow and his co-accused would stand outside the hotel room doors.

It's estimated the victim provided sexual services 50 to 60 times after the operation was moved from the Marlborough to a ground-level room at the Thriftlodge, Cooper said.

She would take the client's cash, hand it over and be given a "certain cut," Harvey was told.

The woman told investigators she was "administered" crystal methamphetamine, "which kept her up for days at a time so that she could continue to work longer," Cooper said.

Gow's co-accused once injected her with the drug, causing an injury that ultimately required a hospital trip, Cooper said.

"There was a festering wound happening where the injection was placed... that continued to go unresolved for days on end while she continued to work, and it puffed up."

Gow tried to help the woman before the wound got so bad she had to go to hospital, Cooper said.

The case broke open after police were called to the Thriftlodge on Oct. 1 -- one day after a Manitoba probation officer had also called them with concerns, Cooper said. The state of the room confirmed what police had been told. "The room was full of drug paraphernalia, needles and so on lying around the room, bras, clothing," said Cooper.

Gow gave two statements to police admitting to his involvement as a "lesser player" in the scheme.

Through his lawyer, Gow said he'd been living at the Salvation Army and was invited by the co-accused to a party at the Marlborough. They became friends and he got involved in the scheme, court heard. The co-accused threatened him to keep his mouth shut, defence lawyer Kevin Sneesby said.

Gow, a father of two, has a criminal history for assault and uttering threats. At the time the escort venture was up and running he was on probation.

Harvey handed him two years in jail, plus more probation to follow. He has more than 17 months left to serve.

"The whole community suffers when people are victimized in this way," Harvey said.

Andre Collins Mitchell, 42, remains before the courts facing several prostitution-related charges, including keeping a common bawdy house. He is presumed innocent.

james.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2014 A5

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