Football fans thinking of buying sex while in Winnipeg for the Grey Cup should think again, according to a new provincial government campaign aimed at preventing a spike in sexual exploitation before big sporting events.
The Manitoba government has teamed up with Klinic Community Health Centre to launch a toll-free hotline that's now available 24/7 to help victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking escape, as well as counsel those at risk.
As well, the province will help fund a public awareness campaign called Buying Sex is Not a Sport that aims to deter potential predators. It will roll out in the weeks leading up to the Grey Cup championship game at Investors Group Field on Nov. 29.
Attorney General Gord Mackintosh said it's "a sad reality" that sexual exploitation and human trafficking cases often rise in the days leading up to major sporting events, but Manitoba wants to put a stop to that.
"We don't want those who exploit our women and girls arriving, too," Mackintosh said Thursday morning.
"Football is a sport, a great sport. But buying sex is not a sport. Predators not welcome."
The Human Trafficking Hotline number is 1-844-333-2211. Organizers say counsellors have already received at least one call.
Mackintosh said the hotline will offer a lifeline for victims who need help escaping sexual exploitation, while the public awareness campaign aims to discourage "potential exploiters" by focusing on the damage that exploitation and human trafficking does to the victims.
Large influx of visitors
According to the province, sex trafficking and forced prostitution have become more common at large sporting events with a large influx of visitors, mostly men.
Law enforcement agencies have reported a spike in the number of online ads and social media posts related to human trafficking in the weeks leading up to such events.
While anyone can fall victim to human trafficking, the provincial government says aboriginal women and girls are "over-represented as victims of sexual exploitation and sex trafficking in Manitoba."
The Buying Sex is Not a Sport campaign is getting support from the Joy Smith Foundation, which was created in 2011 by former Kildonan-St. Paul MP Joy Smith to provide public education and fund front-line organizations that rescue and help the victims of human trafficking.
"It is well-known that human traffickers use large sporting events to traffic and exploit our youth into the sex trade," Smith said in a government news release.
"Working together we can raise awareness of this issue and protect our youth from these predators."
Criminals funding hotline — sort of
The province said it's spending $22,000 to fund the hotline, while the public awareness campaign will cost $23,000.
"The $22,000 for the hotline is actually paid for by predators themselves through a criminal property forfeiture regime here in Manitoba," Mackintosh said. "I find that satisfying."
Thursday's announcements are initiatives of the Manitoba Sports Event Safety Working Group, which includes the province, the City of Winnipeg, the RCMP and Winnipeg Police Service, Klinic, Beyond Borders, the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre and other agencies and organizations.
"We have government, community organizations, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, we have people from the private sector and all of us working together in a co-ordinated way, and we all agree that buying sex is not a sport," said Diane Redsky, executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, which works with aboriginal families in Winnipeg.
Alaya McIvor, a member of the working group, said she was first sexually exploited when she was 12 years old and was in and out of the sex trade for years.
She now uses her experience as a human trafficking survivor to help other women and girls who are being exploited.
"Being that voice for those who can't be here today — that's where my voice is at and that's where my heart is at," she said. "I think it's very important for me to do the work that I'm doing here."