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Slavery isn’t Sexy: A Hard Look at the Underbelly of the Olympics

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The Salvation Army has launched “The Truth isn’t Sexy” campaign to raise public awareness about human trafficking in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

As Trisha Baptie, a former sex-trade worker said, “It’s human slavery. There are women in brothels in Vancouver right now, and more will come before the Games.”

The Salvation Army defines human trafficking as “…illegal movement of people for the purpose of exploitation in the form of commercial sex, domestic service, manual labour, and sales of organs.” The Salvation Army’s focus is on sexual human trafficking internationally and nationally. In the 1800’s, when it was called the “white slave trade”, the Salvation Army opened 117 homes to rescue young girls. This past January 2010, the Salvation Army in Vancouver opened Deborah’s Gate, which is a safe house that holds 10 women. Although it is primarily for sexually trafficked women, women trafficked in domestic servitude are also accepted if there is room.  

At the recent Burnaby Teachers’ Association panel discussion on human trafficking and the sex trade, it was revealed that there are a larger number of trafficked persons in forced labour than in the sex trade. This includes farm workers across Canada, underage and unpaid workers in restaurants, and children held as household help 24/7. 

Currently, there is nothing in the Canadian laws to guarantee protection of trafficked persons. People in this situation are terrified to speak because they do not trust authorities here nor in their own countries. They do not want to be sent home because they are ostracized by their communities and picked up again by international traffickers who abuse them even more violently because they ran away.  

Women in other countries are lied to about what they are getting involved in when they are lured to Canada. The same techniques used for all types of abuse-isolation, beatings and psychological terror-are used against these women to keep them hostage. Their passports are held, many cannot speak the language, and they do not know who to trust to ask for help.  

They are trapped.

As Salvation Army’s Winn Blackman said, “Desperate people do desperate things.” There are direct connections between homelessness, poverty, abuse, addiction and prostitution. There is a vicious cycle for trafficked persons who are trafficked, raped, and beaten by a pimp; who self-medicate with drugs to endure the physical, mental and emotional pain; and who then have to prostitute themselves to cover the cost of the drugs.

Currently nothing is stopping traffickers and pimps from working this trade in human flesh. This is a billion dollar business for organized crime.

90% of people in prostitution, who Salvation Army workers have spoken with, would choose a way out if they had one. What is urgently needed is exit strategies: safety, shelter, food, justice, equal treatment, support, education, and skills training in order for these exploited women to leave prostitution.

Winn said, “People always want statistics. We say if one person is harmed, it is too many. We just want this to be stopped and not part of our beautiful, beautiful city of Vancouver. We all need to join forces to make sure this is ended. If there is no demand, there is no trafficking.”

Ben Perrin indicated that human traffickers have already been here in Vancouver for at least one year and that they view the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as the biggest opportunity for them in decades.

Globally, Sweden is the only country that has reduced trafficking and the exploitation of women for sexual purposes by decriminalizing the selling of sex and criminalizing the purchasing of sex by pimps, traffickers, and johns, shifting the blame to the person who has choice.  

The Salvation Army campaign is to increase public awareness because people are not aware enough of what human trafficking is and that it is happening right here in Canada and right here in Vancouver right now. They are doing a media blitz during the Olympics with CTV ads, postcards to be handed out, Slavery isn’t Sexy ads in transit shelters as well as big screen and billboard ads. There is a number to call for people who need help: 604.872.7774. 

Brian Venables, of the Salvation Army, said, “Truly there is a problem in Vancouver. Those victims of human trafficking who are prostituted are not prostitutes, They are slaves used for sex who are not compensated, not cared for, and not making their own choices because their liberties have been taken away.” 

Have we learned anything from the Pickton trial here in Vancouver? As was said at the BTA discussion, our common ground is women are being killed.  

Please speak out to stop this horror. 

“The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look on and do nothing.” Albert Einstein

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