The harrowing words of two young women describing how they were dehumanized, exploited and physically abused by a Toronto pimp were shared Friday for a judge who must now decide his punishment.

Simon Ho-On, 24, took the unusual step of pleading guilty last January to six human-trafficking related offences connected to two victims, one whom he met while she was 21 and attending a Toronto university. Friday was his sentencing hearing.

In an agreed statement of facts, Ho-On admitted forcing them into the sex trade, pocketing the money for himself and controlling them by supplying them with illicit drugs, knowing they were struggling with drug addiction. He took their photos and posted them on websites advertising sexual services and convinced them to tattoo his nickname on their bodies. On several occasions, when he got mad, he beat them.

“I have been suicidal and harmed myself physically because I feel worthless and I hate myself and my body,” the former student, who dropped out of school when she started to “work” for Ho-On, wrote in a victim impact statement read Friday by Crown attorney Monica Gharabaway.

“I have spent years trying to fix the damage that you caused to become the strong woman I am today,” wrote the other victim, now 22. Their identities are covered by a publication ban.

Gharabaway, a member of Ontario’s human trafficking prosecution team, told Superior Court Justice Michael Quigley she is seeking a 10-year sentence, minus the time he’s already spent in custody. She is also seeking a $48,000 restitution order, the money he earned from trafficking the university student over an 11-month period.

Defence lawyer Fiona McNestry suggested a sentence in the five- to six-year range was more appropriate, considering her client had no prior criminal record and has been in custody for three-and-a-half years under extremely harsh conditions during the pandemic.

In a pre-sentence report, Ho-On indicated that when he got involved in this criminal activity at 20, “it was during a time of my life where I didn’t have anything going on. It was around me; was a norm in the city at the time, so I said why not give it a try?”

McNestry explained the reason it was “normal” was because of the company he was keeping at the time living in a group home. Letters of support suggested he was “impressionable,” not that this excused his conduct, she said.

Ho-On is prepared to seek professional counselling and has tangible goals, including furthering his education and opening a tattoo parlour once he’s released from custody, she said.

He watched the proceedings Friday though large black framed glasses sitting in the video room at the Toronto East Detention Centre.

Ho-On told the judge he wanted to apologize to the victims and their loved ones.

“I’m sorry for my actions that have caused them trauma and pain. This has been the biggest mistake of my life,” he said reading from a piece of paper he pulled from a pocket of his orange jumpsuit. While he wore a protective mask, tattoos were visible across his forehead, above his nose and on top of his cheeks.

“Every night, this haunts me of what I’ve done to these women. I have a close relationship with my sister who I love and care for, and I never want this to happen to her. I will be seeking help and rehabilitation further on the road to improve myself.”

The judge thanked Ho-On for his apology and remorse and said he would pass sentence Aug. 30. However, even if he receives a sentence amounting to time served, Ho-On will remain in custody while waiting to stand trial in December on charges related to another victim.

Betsy Powell is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and courts for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @powellbetsy