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Sex Trade Workers, the Olympics, and the Undetected "Eyes of Darkness"

“There aren’t too many sympathizers to sex trade workers,” says Kerry Porth, Executive Director at P.A.C.E Foundation in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

 With what is about to occur with the Olympics around the corner, it is forecasted that many sex trade workers will be displaced into areas unfamiliar to them, Porth says. Women will be vulnerable in new areas and out of desperation violence may occur.

Women who usually work the Kingsway stroll are pushed further east in the industrial area, or the “tranny stroll,” transgendered area where they will get into conflict with sex trade workers who are already there. “It gets quite territorial.”  

So, organizations such as P.A.C.E and the WISH Drop-In Center Facility have services and collaborative efforts devised to ensure their needs are being responded to as quickly as possible.

Kate Gibson, Executive Director of the WISH Drop-In Center Facility, elaborates. “The van patrols and goes from 10:30p.m - 5:30a.m. They are existing in emergency strolls where the boundary is Boundary road.” To her, the greatest challenge will be responding to their immediate needs.

Even though a liaison officer is working closely with the WISH, Gibson fears  the unknown.  “There is a role and I think that they will respond when they are asked, but the women we work with will not call them.” Pulling together now and addressing issues as they come up is an important venture.  

Porth states that needs  are met only when women decide to come in. She is accumulating funding to do a workshop in early January for workers in the sex trade. However, it has been difficult to meet this since funding is drying up and “a grant is coming up for renewal and there is concern about that.”

“The ability to help members has decreased for the past years and donations are down by two-thirds and funding down by 40%," she says. Speculations about the Games fuels anxiety for the organization and women on the streets.

Constable Lindsey Houghton at the Vancouver Police Department remarked about the relationship between the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. There  has been speculation that the Games might create an alarming increase in human trafficking. These claims are inconsistent with some evidence (see research document), that indicates that human trafficking and mega-events are not linked. 

Nonetheless, Houghton says, "we are working to ensure that prevention, early detection and intervention of human trafficking are indeed maximized, prior to, during, and post the Games. Sex industry workers deserve to live as safely as anyone else in Vancouver. The VPD is committed to working with industry and community organizations to keep everyone safe.”

When asked whether crime and violence will increase during Olympics due to police attending to other Olympics aspects, Porth believes that perpetrators won’t take advantage of this open slot.  “There is an expectation that there will be enhanced security in this area.”  

According to Porth there is a concern when displaced women have a different set of indicators for when they speak with people. Some enter homes, others stick to car meetings.

Gibson believes that there might be concern about who might take advantage of the fact that the police are otherwise engaged during the Olympics. “I don’t think there is a way to predict it. We have to be alert and women and men have to be alert. Who might take advantage of that time and how?”  

It could bring out perps and “the eyes of darkness might go undetected.” 

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