Prostitution in the GTA is an example of "total exploitation," says Det.-Const. Leanne Marchen.

"I don't know any other word to use, other than maybe slavery," she told CTV Crime Reporter Tamara Cherry.

Marchen works for a special section of the Toronto Police Service that seeks to protect sex workers, the Special Victims Section of the Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit. Day after day they seek out young, vulnerable sex workers.

She and her colleagues know many of the women they meet are victims face threats of beatings or rapes.

"Often girls start when they're 13, 14 years old. They're groomed by a pimp who controls their movements, who takes their money and basically acts as that threatening figure to make them work against their will," said Det. Paul Gauthier, another officer with the unit.

"They're made to literally work sometimes upwards of 21, 22 hours a day for several days straight."

At police headquarters, Gauthier scans online classified ads, posing as johns and looking to make appointments with underage girls.

"Look at her," he says of one ad. "She says she's 19, new to Toronto, so we'll give her a call."

By contacting the workers, they hope to nab their pimps. But it isn't easy.

Gauthier arranges dates with four different girls, and a CTV News crew sets up in a bustling downtown hotel.

The first date turns out to be with a 45-year-old woman. She explains that she was sexually abused as a child, which is a common thread among many in the city's sex trade.

When it comes to safety, she says she's more worried about competing sex workers than her clients.

"If you're remotely attractive, they will kill you," the woman says, adding that after one run-in last year, she couldn't work for six weeks.

"I was so bruised and injured -- she poured pots of hot water on me and threw me into the wall repeatedly."

Marchen says that younger women and underage girls are more likely to have a pimp. Often times, they refer to the pimp as their boyfriend.

"Basically they're working and they're turning over every single dime they make to these guys," Marchen said.

"This isn't just a downtown problem. Girls are being recruited from malls, bus stops, group homes, even schools and they're being pimped out in strip clubs, massage parlours and condos across the GTA."

On the third date, another woman is dropped off at the hotel by a man wearing a white coat. Two officers go after him.

The man says an escort agency hired him as a driver, but he's not her pimp.

"I just come with her upstairs and then I call my friend," he tells police.

On the last date, officers find a woman in her 40s who speaks no English.

Marchen hands her a pamphlet in Mandarin and tells her: "We want to make sure that you're safe."

As with each case, they supply the woman with a number she can call in case of emergency.

Beyond that, Marchen says a good day is when they can get a girl to sign a statement against her pimp. But today isn't one of those days.

They might not get a call back from any of the women they have contacted today or this week. But eventually they hope their work will lead to a change of heart and the phone will ring.

Follow CTV Toronto Crime Reporter Tamara Cherry on Twitter at @tamaracherry

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