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'Buying sex is not a sport': sex work campaign

VANCOUVER - Anti-human trafficking groups are kicking off a campaign today that will raise awareness around paid sex and the 2010 Olympics.

“Anytime that you have a world sporting event like this … anytime you have men that are travelling they are more likely to pay for sex,” said Michelle Miller, executive director of Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity, an organizer of the campaign.

“We know the women need to come from somewhere.”

The campaign called Buying Sex is Not a Sport will highlight the expected increase of human trafficking during the Olympics and the impact of sex work on women, said Trisha Baptie who is helping plan events.

“Prostitution is violence against women. That’s how it should be named,” she said.

Human trafficking nearly doubled during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, and the number of prostitutes filling brothels also increased during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, according to the anti-trafficking organization The Future Group.

And while the 2010 Olympics are expected to bring similar statistics across Canadian borders, the campaign will also raise awareness about the potential increase of a problem that is already extremely prevalent in Vancouver.

“Women are trafficked to Vancouver for the purposes of filling Vancouver’s brothels as I say this to you,” said Baptie, a former prostitute.

“When I worked indoors, I knew that there were women coming in that clearly did not want to be there that were there.”

The campaign will address both international and domestic trafficking, she said.

“We know Asian women come here to fill the massage parlours, we know aboriginal women are filtered down to feed mostly street level prostitution -- that women from rural reservations are brought down into the metropolitan cities.”

An estimated 800 people are trafficked into the country each year, according to the Canadian Parliamentary Information and Research Service. An additional 1,500 to 2,200 are trafficked through Canada to the United States.

But Miller said the numbers shouldn’t be the focus. “If there are 10 women trafficked here, that’s 10 too many, and if there are 10,000, that’s 10,000 too many. For us, even one is too many.”

REED is advocating for the federal government to adopt the Swedish model of laws on prostitution, which decriminalizes the seller, while targeting the buyer.

Other organizations in Vancouver, such as Pivot Legal Society, advocate for full decriminalization of prostitution, a move REED says is a slippery slope.

“We agree the women should not be criminalized, but full decriminalization would be open season, and would leave our most vulnerable even more vulnerable,” said Miller.

“We found that prostituted women will be studied ad nauseum about why they’re in prostitution, but there’s been very little discussion about the buyers, and the buyers represent a much larger number.”

Two years after the model was implemented in Sweden, there was a reported 80-per-cent decrease in street prostitution.

The Sex is Not a Sport campaign kicks off tonight at the International Film Centre in Vancouver with a panel discussion and screening of Holly, a film about child sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Monthly panel discussions will follow all over the city throughout the campaign, which Miller says will continue into the Olympics.

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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