News that Canadian pimps have forced prostitutes into Vancouver to service tourists during the upcoming Olympics isn't the kind of commerce we expected as proud host of the Winter Games.
Human trafficking, the buying and selling of people against their will, is part of the reality for Vancouver as it prepares to open the Games. Damage control would have you think sex for sale at the Olympics is just free enterprise gone horny, with everyone cashing in on their own free will. Don't believe it.
A front page exposé in the Vancouver Province slapped the Olympics with slime last week, documenting the staggering increase in demand for prostitution in Vancouver and Whistler. And read between the lines on this advertisement posted on Craigslist: "New and young girls are welcome to our family. Take advantage of the Olympics to make a large sum of money."
The John Howard Society compiled Canadian research and concluded "in Canada the age at which individuals begin prostituting is usually between 14 and 16 years." There is not an adult among us who would believe it's a career any teenager had a choice in.
Spend any time with young girls who've lost a family and their support systems and you discover why prostitution is presented to them far more often than it is to young women from more healthy environments. Prostitution isn't a natural choice for women and no parent coaches their child to aspire it. The supply for the demand of paid sex must be coerced.
Along the way, some tell us they come to thrive in the "industry." They call themselves sex workers; three prostitutes have launched a Charter challenge to make it legal to live off the avails of prostitution. If successful, it would make Canada a destination of sex for sale, and organized crime would be out scrambling for more girls to meet demand.
John Cassells is one who suspects he's lost women from his neighbourhood to sex on demand at the Games. He's a Toronto worker with Youth Unlimited who oversees staff and volunteers helping women leave prostitution.
Several women had warned him their pimps were going to be moving them to Vancouver, and as expected, they are now missing, says Mr. Cassells, citing it as a matter of business, not of choice.
"I would say the vast majority of the girls I know who have exited prostitution have told of being drawn into the sex trade by coercion and controlled by violence. The majority of women we work with speak of their own personal struggle to get out, and a sense of being trapped and forced," he says.
That is why you will see a collection of human-rights activists, abolitionists and Christian advocates all spending time and energy trying to publicize the plight of those trafficked during the Olympics.
The Salvation Army has launched a high-gloss advertising blitz to deter sex traffickers and opened a Vancouver safe house. Academics and former prostitutes have created the campaign Buying Sex is Not A Sport, and did more than just irritate those who want to be selling sex. Teaching people that prostitution is still a dangerous, high-demand and high-risk erosion of equality rights in Canada has made them exceptionally unpopular with libertine voices.
Parliament has fallen silent on the issue, with two human trafficking bills dying because of prorogation. Bill C-45 and Bill C-268 would have put some teeth into the outrage many Canadians feel over the fact that criminals can sell vulnerable people while pocketing a profit.
Sex for sale is far too important an issue to leave to market forces or court rulings. It is a moral and social-policy issue that requires compassion toward the vulnerable and tough laws to deal with those who purchase sex. When something as wholesome as the Olympics can be violated this way, we dare remain silent no longer.
Lorna Dueck is executive producer of Listen Up TV.
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