Some of the teens were addicts. Most had family and school problems. All lacked stability and direction in their lives.
And that’s what made them vulnerable to Reza Moazami, the Crown said Wednesday, characterizing the 29-year-old Vancouver man as a predator who deliberately targeted young girls, talked them into prostitution, then kept much – if not all – of their earnings for himself.
Mr. Moazami is facing 36 counts, including charges of sexual assault, sexual exploitation, living on the avails of prostitution and human trafficking. The 11 complainants in the case were 14 to 19 years old at the time of the alleged offences. Nine were under the age of 18, and seven had never worked as prostitutes before meeting Mr. Moazami, the Crown told B.C. Supreme Court in its opening statement.
Prosecutor Damienne Darby alleged Mr. Moazami sexually assaulted six of the teens, five of whom were under the age of 18 at the time.
“Mr. Moazami engaged in the systematic recruitment of vulnerable teenage girls,” Ms. Darby said. “These were so-called at-risk girls and he recruited them into prostitution for his own financial benefit.”
Mr. Moazami’s lawyers have not yet made their opening submission and declined to speak with reporters after court Wednesday. The allegations have not been proven. The trial is expected to run 15 weeks.
Mr. Moazami was arrested in October, 2011, in an operation Vancouver police called Project Sabr. The department said it chose the name because, in Farsi, sabr means probing a wound or examining something to its very bottom. The Crown said some of the evidence in the case has been translated from Farsi.
Ms. Darby spent much of Wednesday’s hearing outlining the evidence the Crown will present. She shared each complainant’s story, identifying themes and similarities.
She said Mr. Moazami told the teens they’d be leading glamorous lives in upscale condos, able to afford nice clothes, overrun with friends. Once the girls were established, she said he would use a variety of strategies to ensure they continued making money, “from coercion to intimidation to outright violence.”
Ms. Darby said Mr. Moazami introduced small dogs with some of the girls, then threatened to hurt them if the girls didn’t do as ordered. She described one incident in which Mr. Moazami allegedly stepped on a dog’s neck and threatened to break it if the teen didn’t do what she was told.
Ms. Darby said the girls were sometimes taken to Calgary, Edmonton or Toronto and were expected to work long hours. She said Mr. Moazami encouraged and facilitated drug use.
Some girls could keep half their earnings, but the more naïve ones agreed to let Mr. Moazami control all of the money, Ms. Darby said. One girl estimated she would have earned $40,000, while another said $20,000 to $30,000, the Crown said.
When the girls chose to leave, Ms. Darby said Mr. Moazami would aggressively attempt to get them back and was often successful.
“This was done usually with carrots – such as a promise to treat them better in the future and offers of the things he knew that they needed, usually a place to stay – but sometimes with a stick, such as a threat to destroy their belongings, or give their dog away,” Ms. Darby said.
Mr. Moazami did not address the court Wednesday. He appeared to be following along with Ms. Darby as she read her submission aloud.
When Mr. Moazami was arrested, Vancouver police said his case marked only the second time in the department’s history that human trafficking charges had been laid in a file involving prostitution.
Outside court, Ms. Darby said the two human trafficking counts refer to controlling a person’s movement to the point that person fears for their safety. She said a person doesn’t have to physically be taken over a border to constitute human trafficking, calling that a common misconception.