Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Police probe trafficking of sex-trade workers

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It wasn't a raid. It wasn't a shakedown.

Instead, the two-day, cross-Canada "blitz" of sex-trade workers by 26 police services -- including Winnipeg's -- had nothing to do with busts. It was all just talk.

"It wasn't for the purpose of arresting them, it was to talk to them," said Winnipeg police Sgt. Gene Bowers, who oversees the city's counter-exploitation and missing persons unit.

"We're trying to get a snapshot of who's out there and where they are from. We want to determine if there's a network of human trafficking or some coercion involved."

In all, Winnipeg police interviewed 15 women; five from the city and 10 from eastern provinces last week in Operation Northern Spotlight, Bower said. Across the country, over 330 women, some as young as 15, were interviewed. Police found some were being forced to perform sexual acts multiple times a day for paying male customers.

Bowers said police suspect some of the women interviewed in Winnipeg, between the ages of 18 and 45, "may have a form of control on them." Others were operating independently.

All were based in local hotels and were tracked down by police from their websites.

Bowers said the focus of the operation was on web-based sex-trade workers, due to the movement of the sex trade away from the street and onto the Internet.

"There's definitely a proliferation on the Internet of the sex trade," he said. "We want to make sure women aren't being trafficked. The violence is not just on the streets. It's inside as well."

Bowers said it was too soon to determine conclusions from the operation, noting the information collected will be assessed on a countrywide basis.

Police did find "several teenagers and young women were being forced to perform sex acts through threats of violence, physical intimidation, drug dependency and other forms of coercion," according to a statement. "Part or all of the proceeds from the sexual encounters were kept by their adult male controller or pimp."

Bowers said police were also seeking information on men who frequently requested young women.

"We monitor both sides of it," he said.

 

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 29, 2014 B2

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