One of the online pop-up ads from EPS encouraging would-be sex buyers to #RethinkYourChoice. Supplied
Throughout the past 30 years, neighbourhood communities impacted by sexual exploitation and human trafficking have seen different awareness campaigns initiated by the Edmonton Police Service. A sign from the 90s still stands by La Dolce Vita in McCauley as a reminder of the terrible years when hundreds of cars cruised the neighbourhood preying upon vulnerable children and women, some of whom were later found murdered. Some readers may remember the EPS signs stating: This community doesn’t tolerate EXPLOITATION “report-a-john”. Or, the ads in VUE Weekly opposite massage parlour ads: “Buying Sex is a Crime: Don’t Be Part of the Problem,” and billboards and transit ads with slogans like,“What if it was your daughter?” When cars were seized in 2007 as part of undercover operations, transit ads warned: “You Cruise, You Lose.”
While there are men still seeking to exploit youth and adults in the survival sex and drug trade, many more are cruising the internet. Much of the exploitation activity has shifted from street corners to online buy-and-sell sites and apps. To educate these online buyers, the EPS Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit recently launched a new digital campaign called #rethinkyourchoice. There are pop-up ads on internet websites and would-be buyers will be redirected to a page on the EPS website. There are other social media campaign elements on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to raise awareness. Another initiative is an automated text reply attached to some ads, linking to helpful resources.
It’s a simple analysis of a complex situation, yet it does speak to a simple consumer truth. If there were no demand for commercialized sex services, there would be no supply, no traffickers, no business. The sex trade has multiple impacts, and this awareness campaign seeks to address the effect a father’s actions could have on his family.
The Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit responds in creative ways to decrease the impact of exploitation activity in Edmonton. The Unit has a threefold approach: investigation of those who are traffickers, abusers, and exploiters; support for those who are victimized; and initiatives to reduce the demand that creates commercial sexual exploitation.
Staff Sergeant Colin Hughan commented, “The EPS is committed to the prevention, protection [of the vulnerable], and prosecution of human trafficking and exploitation activity through our continued partnerships with the community in a victim-centred manner.”
Learn more at this link: https://www.edmontonpolice.ca/CommunityPolicing/FamilyProtection/SexTrade/ProstitutioninEdmonton
Kate Quinn is the Executive Director of the Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation (CEASE).