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This article was published 27/8/2015 (1682 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg police are tackling exploitation on city streets by earning sex workers’ trust.
On August 10, police arrested 26 men between the ages of 19 and 77 and seized 18 vehicles after a two-week investigation into sex-trade activity in Winnipeg’s North- and West-End neighbourhoods.
The sting, dubbed Project Create, came after the police service stopped charging prostitutes and those selling sex on city streets. For the past two years, just before prostitution was decriminalized in Canada, investigators have been solely targeting johns and pimps, calling them "exploiters."
Sgt. Cam MacKid, head of the counter exploitation team, said information police receive from sex workers can be very important.
"The streets of Winnipeg can be very dangerous, and these women are sort of the ground zero. They see what’s going on from a close-up perspective and some things that wouldn’t come to our attention, they might be aware of it. So from a safety perspective, it’s essential that we have that open line of communication," he said.
Street-level sex-trade work happens at an "elevated" rate in Winnipeg, with roughly 300 to 400 sex workers in the city, mostly in the William Whyte and Daniel McIntyre wards, MacKid said. He said officers in the unit are now on a first-name basis with most of the women, the majority of whom have addictions issues.
"When we used to roll up on these girls in our cars, they would quickly scatter, that was typical of what would happen before. They weren’t interested in talking to us, we were sort of seen as something to avoid," he said.
But over the past two years, that changed.
"They’re not hiding from us. They might not accept our help every time, but they’re certainly willing to talk to us and if there’s something they feel we need to know about what’s going on on the street, if they’re in danger, if there’s a predator that they’ve identified, they’ll make us aware of that."
If youths are being exploited, police will take them off the street and launch an investigation, MacKid said. Otherwise, police try to refer adult sex workers to community agencies that can help them get out of the trade.
"It might take something in their own personal lives to prompt them to look for help," he said. "We want to be the phone call that they make, and we’ve certainly made progress in that. Our officers get regular phone calls now from women that need assistance."
Many of the men arrested in the recent investigation will be sent to the Salvation Army’s john school, which the police service considers to be effective in helping keep johns off the street.
Katie May reports on courts, crime and justice for the Free Press.