TIMMINS -- Timmins police say what started as an online romance turned into a tragedy: a 25-year-old woman became a victim of human trafficking.

To protect the identity of the victim, police are releasing few details about what happened, but said Wednesday they arrested and charged a 41-year old man from Woodbridge, Ont., with 14 human trafficking charges.

"This speaks to the value of local hospitality industry people being aware of certain things and making the police aware of their suspicions -- that’s what led to this investigation taking place," said Marc Depatie, communications coordinator for the Timmins Police Service.

This is only the second time local police have charge someone for this crime -- the first time was in May 2019. But officials said it's an ongoing issue with the city being connected to major human trafficking corridors in the north. To avoid detection, traffickers move victims around to keep them isolated and dependent.

Human trafficking corridor

"Timmins is most definitely part of that corridor," said Brenda Beaven, coordinator of the Cochrane District Crime Stoppers Program. "Yes, we’re kind of off the main highway, but it is a stopover. The north is a large area so Timmins is a great place to kinda' stop, rest shall we say, but also there is potential for that activity to become fruitful."

Beaven said it doesn't happen often, but she has received some tips about human trafficking taking place in local hotels and is thankful people have called them in.

Victim support workers in Timmins said, recently, they are seeing an increase in human trafficking cases.

“This quarter, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in cases compared to last year or the year before," said Kerry Trudel, a victim support worker with Timmins and District Victim Services.

She said some victims who come forward either come on their own for help or someone they know refer them to the service.

Average age is 17

While she said the average recruitment age is 17 years old, she has seen some girls as young as 14 become victims.

However, she said victims are becoming more aware there is help available to them and she thinks the COVID-19 pandemic may be helping to raise awareness of the issue.

"A lot of work used to happen in a lot of public places that are now shut down so that has changed," Trudel said. "And the hotels are working a little bit differently, too, on what rooms they have available. They’re being shut down for three days at a time while they deep clean and things like that, so I feel there’s more staff around for sanitizing.”

But still, she said, there are a lot of cases that go unreported because a victim may not be ready or choose not to do so. Regardless, Trudel said victims will be supported.

Trudel said someone might be a victim of human trafficking if they're not allowed to speak for themselves and their activities are controlled. Some victims show signs of abuse and don't have their own belongings or money and don't control their own identification.

Over the past two years, Timmins and District Victim Services has helped 29 victims and she said all of them knew their traffickers and trusted them.

Timmins police said this recent case may be the tipping point for further investigations. Depatie said the accused remains in custody and has a bail hearing on Feb. 26. He is also facing a mischief to property charge for causing $1,000 in damages to the rear compartment of a Timmins police cruiser.