No boost for sex trade as Olympics loom, says report

Posted on behalf of Maxine Doogan
Sex industry-commissioned study debunks link between increased human trafficking, major sporting events

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun columnist June 11, 2009

The Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group’s new report’s five recommendations are explicitly aimed at preventing human trafficking of women and men into prostitution and helping victims.

There is no proof that human trafficking increases in advance of major sporting events such as the Olympics, says a new 150-page report commissioned by a group of Vancouver sex-trade workers.
“The commonly held notion of a link between mega-sport events, trafficking in persons and sex work is an unsubstantiated assumption,” says the report done for the Sex Industry Worker Safety Action Group (SIWSAG) with the support of the Pivot Legal Society, Vancouver Police Department and the B.C. government (see the report here).

Both SIWSAG and Pivot are leading a campaign to legalize solicitation. Prostitution is not illegal under the Canadian Criminal Code. What is illegal is that act of negotiating payment for sex.

Although the report purports to debunk any notion that mega-sports events lead to more prostitutes and increased human trafficking, its five recommendations are explicitly aimed at preventing human trafficking of women and men into prostitution and helping victims.

It recommends a comprehensive public awareness campaign that would describe the dangers of trafficking, provide information on victims’ rights and services, inform the public of steps they can take to identify and assist victims and make it clear that violence against victims of trafficking and sex workers will not be tolerated.

It recommends that a full range of services be available for trafficking victims from housing to translation services.

And it recommends that someone be hired full-time from November until the end of February to act as a liaison between sex workers, police, local government officials and community groups in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside where many prostitutes work on the street.

“If anything, we found that the conflation of sex work and trafficking can result in policy and enforcement responses that negatively affect the lives of sex workers and victims of trafficking,” says Tamara O’Doherty of SIWSAG.

UBC law professor Ben Perrin called it “an odd report.”

“It makes very important recommendations — early detection, intervention and a major public awareness campaign,” he said, even though the report denies that trafficking is likely to increase.

Perrin called that conclusion “absurd.”

“We currently have a problem with sexual exploitation and trafficking that we need to deal with. So throw a million visitors into the mix and, of course, the problems will increase,” he said.

“And to recommend ignoring the risk of increased demand is dangerous public policy.”

Perrin’s own 2007 report — Faster, Higher, Stronger: Preventing Human Trafficking at the 2010 Olympics — was one of the first to highlight the potential for increased prostitution and trafficking.

He based his conclusions on data from the Greek Ministry of Public Safety that indicated a 95-per-cent increase in the number of trafficking victims identified in 2004 when Athens hosted the Summer Olympics.

The SIWSAG report says that didn’t necessarily mean trafficking increased. Rather, it says, better detection meant more victims were found.

The SIWSAG report ignored a 2007 German government report to the European Union after the 2006 World Cup of soccer, which Perrin quoted in his research.

The German report said that it became clear in the run-up to the World Cup that higher numbers of prostitutes would be in and around the game sites and fan hotels. “An increase in the number of prostitutes was recorded at game venues and the surrounding areas. This was due, for instance, to the fact that prostitutes from outside regions travelled to the game venues.”

Perrin noted — as did the SIWSAG report — that the increase did not reach the widely reported 40,000.

Michelle Miller, of the anti-trafficking group Resist Exploitation and Embrace Dignity, said if SIWSAG is convinced that human trafficking won’t increase, why all the recommendations for detection, intervention and victims’ assistance?

“From REED’s perspective, when men travel in large numbers and away from their social networks, demand will increase for sexual services … Our concern is around the demand.”

She went on to say that trafficking already happens in Vancouver and it’s poor and ethnic women who are its most frequent victims.

As for the specific recommendations about informing victims of their rights and available services, Miller said they have no rights and there are no services.

She also dismissed the call for a public awareness campaign in advance of the Games. There already is one, she said. Her group launched it several weeks ago. It’s called Buying Sex is Not a Sport and is aimed at stopping demand for paid sexual services.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun