Sporting events don’t attract exploitation and Grey Cup campaign stigmatizes sex workers

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Last week, the Manitoba government launched Buying Sex is Not a Sport (BSNS). The campaign’s goals seem admirable. Fight “human trafficking” and “sexual exploitation,” which the province claims will dramatically rise when the Grey Cup comes to Winnipeg later this month.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/11/2015 (2508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Last week, the Manitoba government launched Buying Sex is Not a Sport (BSNS). The campaign’s goals seem admirable. Fight “human trafficking” and “sexual exploitation,” which the province claims will dramatically rise when the Grey Cup comes to Winnipeg later this month.

Unfortunately, the problem it aims to solve simply does not exist.

For the last decade or so, every time a World Cup, Olympics or other large sporting event comes around, media reports foretell the coming of a massive influx of trafficked and exploited women. Mothers, lock up your daughters — sports fans are coming to town.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press The province is launching a human trafficking hotline and a public awareness campaign called Buying Sex is Not a Sport.

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women investigated this very issue in 2013. Their report covered two World Cups, three Super Bowls and two Olympic games. They found “no evidence that large sporting events increase trafficking for prostitution.”

What did all those large sporting events have in common? In every case, anti-prostitution crusaders and police took advantage of a major event to get attention in the media. And every time, practically no “trafficking” or “sex slaves” were found.

The people behind BSNS should present evidence that sporting events lead to trafficking, or admit that it is based on little more than misguided moral panic. Even the campaign’s supporting documents admit that clear evidence of this phenomenon does not exist.

With this utter lack of evidence, we are left with a $23,000 question — the cost of the campaign to Manitoban taxpayers. What is really behind this campaign?

For clues, one has only to look at the first Buying Sex is Not a Sport campaign in Canada. A group of faith-based organizations in Ontario launched the first BSNS earlier this year to “challenge the demand for paid sex” in the context of the Pan-Am Games. Not trafficking, not exploitation, but all paid sex. Unlike in Toronto, the Manitoba version does not include suggested prayers, but the campaign’s logo and subtitle — “challenge the demand” — are almost identical. You can Google it.

Needless to say, the Manitoba government is wading into troubling territory by copying and pasting a faith-based anti-prostitution campaign. This money could have been better spent on addressing the actual factors that force people into sex work. These include child poverty, our abysmally low housing allowance, legacies of colonization and ongoing racism.

The BSNS campaign also produced an info sheet that read as a racist and befuddling grab bag of “warning signs” that someone may be trafficked: the individual may not speak English, may show signs of malnourishment and may come from a foreign country. This endeavor, too, sadly, is starving for some common sense.

The Winnipeg Working Group for Sex Workers’ Rights is a local coalition of sex workers and their allies. We see this campaign for what it is: perpetuating stigma against sex workers while ignoring root causes. We are suspicious of initiatives advertised as helping indigenous people, but that happen to be designed by police, government and former Conservative politicians. We believe that approaches to prevent violence and protect the human rights of sex workers must be informed and directed by sex workers themselves.

Anlina Sheng is with the Winnipeg Working Group. Join the WWG for a free panel discussion on Sex Work: Experience, Evidence, and Rights, taking place at the Good Will Social Club Wednesday. Representatives from the WWG, Sex Professionals of Canada and Kwe Today will be speaking.

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