Concern that young women are being forced to participate in the sex trade has resulted in a two-day blitz by police services across Canada, including the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS).
On January 22 and 23, more than two-dozen police services took part in Operation Northern Spotlight, which was centered around hotels and motels on major thoroughfares in 30 cities and towns across the country. As a result over 330 women, some as young as 15, were interviewed, revealing that some were being forced to perform sexual acts, multiple times a day, for paying male customers.
In a news release, the WPS explained that the Criminal Code refers to this activity as “Human Trafficking,” that the public may better understand this as “sex slavery.”
Although many of the women interviewed appeared to be participating for economic reasons, police said investigators found several teenagers and young women who were being forced to perform through threats of violence, physical intimidation, drug dependency and other forms of coercion. In these cases, part or all of the proceeds from the sexual encounters went to an adult male controller or pimp.
Police Services will continue to monitor any incidents of “forced participation” in hopes of assisting women involved in the sex trade business against their will, the release indicated.
Other participating police forces included, Barrie, Durham Regional, Thunder Bay, York Regional, Calgary, Saskatoon and Edmonton.
In Winnipeg, investigators with the Counter Exploitation Unit were assisted by officers from the Counter Exploitation Team, as well as the Missing Persons Unit. A total of 15 women, between the ages of 18 and 45, were interviewed in hotels located throughout the City of Winnipeg. Investigators believe that some of these women were under some level of control. All were offered support services, including health care and emotional supports, in hopes they can consider other options.
Over the past year, the Counter Exploitation Unit has been investigating several incidents in which young people were being coerced into the sex trade. Anyone with new information that might assist investigators is asked to contact the Counter Exploitation Unit at 1-204-986-3464.