Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unlicensed escort agencies in city's sights

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City hall is going after unlicensed escort agencies in a bid to thwart the forced trafficking of young women and girls in the sex trade.

The Winnipeg Police Service and the community services department have been asked to examine options for identifying the unlicensed agencies and ways to monitor their activities to ensure women and girls are not forced to work against their will.

"Girls and women are being trafficked into forced prostitution inside Canada," Diane Redsky, the project director of the national task force on trafficking of women and girls in Canada, told the protection and community services committee Monday.

Redsky and Coun. Paula Havixbeck told the committee city hall needs to take steps to deal with the issue.

"Aboriginal women and girls are the ones largely targeted" in Winnipeg by the modern-day sex-slave traders, Redsky said.

The city licenses escort agencies, but the vast majority operate without a licence through the anonymity of the Internet.

Redsky said an online search found upwards of 400 illegal escort agencies operating in Winnipeg, adding many force girls as young as 13 to work for them.

In addition to illegal escort agencies, Redsky said strip clubs and rub parlours are involved in trafficking young women and girls.

Havixbeck said it's critical for the city to identify the operators as a way to facilitate inspections to monitor women and girls forced to work against their will.

Clive Wightman, director of community services, said the vast majority of escort agencies exist as no more than a name and a burner mobile phone.

Attempts by bylaw officers to identify and license rogue operators is futile, Wightman said, adding the illegal operators simply throw away their phones and get a new number.

Wightman said police have to be involved in such an initiative, explaining bylaw officers aren't trained in sting operations or prepared to deal with the city's criminal element.

City council asked the committee to look into the issue following a motion by Havixbeck and Coun. Dan Vandal.

The WPS and the administration will report back to the committee within four months.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2014 B3

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