Campaign’s goal misses the mark

Link between sports events, sex exploitation unfounded


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It was the type of government announcement that's become all too common.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/10/2015 (2522 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It was the type of government announcement that’s become all too common.

Various stakeholders launch a public-awareness campaign called Buying Sex is Not a Sport, targeted at “preventing the increase of sexual exploitation related to major sporting events.”

Many government and community agencies — who, together, form the Manitoba Sporting Events Safety Working Group — have thrown their support behind the $22,000 anti-trafficking hotline as well as a $23,000 campaign, which will be seen on buses and taxicabs, as well as in sports bars, in the weeks leading up to the Grey Cup game Nov. 29 at Investors Group Field.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Alaya McIvor (in green jacket), who was in the sex trade starting at the age of 12, speaks out against violence during Thursday’s announcement.

On the face of it, it’s a laudable initiative.

Trouble is, despite being characterized as a well-known fact by outgoing MP Joy Smith and a “sad reality” by Attorney General Gord Macintosh, there’s actually very little reliable evidence supporting the claim on which this entire campaign is hinged: that there’s an uptick in trafficking and sexual exploitation in the weeks leading up to major sporting events.

The so-called Super Bowl sex-trafficking myth has been so persistent that, in 2011, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women put together a report studying the claims of increased trafficking during the 2008, 2009 and 2011 Super Bowls, the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and the 2010 Winter Olympics. The report looked at what was predicted to happen and what actually happened.

Its findings overall? “There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution.”

The supposed link between sex trafficking and sports events comes down to supply and demand: more visitors to a city means a larger market for traffickers to tap — the reasoning being that, I don’t know, lecherous creeps love sports? You’ll notice a distinct lack of sex-trafficking panic around other major destination events, such as film festivals or fashion weeks.

But the alliance report outlines several reasons why an increase during sporting events is unlikely, including it “isn’t statistically feasible; that short-term events are not likely to be profitable for traffickers or sex workers, and that large sporting events are not just attended by men.”

Still, cities hosting major sporting events have amped up their efforts, which has, in some cases, led to a few more prostitution-related arrests. But, as Shawna Ferris of the Winnipeg Working Group for Sex Worker’s Rights points out, a rise in arrests is not necessarily indicative of a rise in trafficking. As well, not all sex work is trafficking. Take the Dallas Super Bowl in 2011 as just one example: of the 59 people arrested on prostitution-related charges before and on the day of the game, one received a human-trafficking charge.

The Winnipeg Working Group — a coalition of sex workers, activists, researchers and health-care professionals — says the Buying Sex is Not a Sport campaign is misguided and a waste of money.

“It’s distressing to see an impoverished province funding an initiative based on a lack of evidence. And then we don’t get funding for the actual things that force people into prostitution,” Ferris says.

Both Ferris and her Winnipeg Working Group colleague Anlina Sheng would like to see the government spend its funds on developing, as Ferris puts it, a “social safety net that is actually a net, so that no one can fall through.” Poverty, addiction, lack of access to education, the damaging legacies of colonization — these are all things that make people vulnerable to exploitation.

No one is arguing sexual exploitation and human trafficking are not problems in this province. They are big problems, and they are year-round problems, with real victims. We should be talking about them. Campaigns such as Buying Sex is Not a Sport are grabby, to be sure, and they make us feel good because they make us feel like real action is being taken. And establishing a dedicated hotline run by trained, trauma-informed counsellors is a great thing that could really help victims — in fact, at Thursday’s news conference, reporters were told they’d already received a call. (The hotline, 1-844-333-2211, will be run by Klinic Community Health Centre.)

But there are many other productive ways we can draw attention to the issue of sex trafficking that don’t involve panic and misinformation. The alliance study has many suggestions, including “increasing the understanding about the complexities of trafficking and its root causes, rather than reducing trafficking to a simplistic ‘supply and demand’ equation,” and to focus on developing partnerships between law enforcement and sex workers to assist anti-trafficking initiatives.

“The results may not be as immediately visible,” Sheng says, “but they will be much more meaningful.” Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.


Updated on Friday, October 30, 2015 1:33 PM CDT: Updates with clarification of what the hotline will cost.

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