Winnipeg Sex Workers Debunk Football Event Trafficking Claims

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Regional Correspondent North America and the Caribbean
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The Winnipeg Working Group for Sex Workers’ Rights is speaking out against claims that a major sporting event will increase “sex trafficking” in their city. In the lead up to the Grey Cup, a football event, government officials have set up over $45,000 CAD worth of funds to combat “human trafficking” in Winnipeg. The funds will be used to set up a phone hotline and an awareness campaign called Buying Sex is Not a Sport.

The Buying Sex is Not a Sport campaign began in Vancouver for the 2010 Olympics. It has been brought to Winnipeg by the Manitoba Sporting Events Safety Working Group. The group conflates sex work with human trafficking.

"The $22,000 for the hotline is actually paid for by predators themselves through a criminal property forfeiture regime here in Manitoba," Attorney General Gord Mackintosh told the CBC. "I find that satisfying."

However, the Winnipeg Working Group has organised to counter these claims. “Despite media hype and police enthusiasm, there was no evidence that large sporting events increase trafficking for prostitution,” they wrote in their press release on October 29, 2015.

The Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women’s What’s the Cost of a Rumour report  looked at major sporting events from 2004-2010. Despite frequent media claims of the link between human trafficking and sports, GAATW found no increase in sex trafficking at any of the events they studied.

Winnipeg Police Sgt. Cam Mackid of the counter-exploitation unit agreed. He told Metro News that they have no evidence to back up claims of an increase in sex trafficking during the Grey Cup.

The Central America Women’s Network’s Exploitation and Trafficking of Women report (2013), available on the NSWP website here, provides more information on trafficking claims around major sporting events. It concludes that trafficking during sports events is a “non-issue.” Racism and sensationalist media coverage play a key role in promoting this myth.

The role of racism is clear in Mackintosh’s claims to the CBC that Canada’s Indigenous women and girls are "over-represented as victims of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Manitoba." The exploitation of Indigenous women is a frequent image used by politicians in Canada to promote increased policing.

While sex trafficking claims by police may lead to more arrests, Winnipeg Working Group member Shawna Ferris cautioned the Winnipeg Free Press that a rise in arrests does not mean a rise in trafficking.

The Winnipeg Working Group says the funds would be better spent on creating a “social safety net that is actually a net, so that no one can fall through.” The money for the campaign could be used to address issues around colonisation, poverty, and addiction to increase choices for sex workers.

The Winnipeg Working Group for Sex Workers Rights is a chapter of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. They are made up of sex workers, academics, health care professionals, and allies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. They are focused on promoting evidence-based and harm reduction approaches to improving working conditions for sex workers.