When the Winnipeg Police Service revealed results of it sex-buying crackdown last week one thing was missing – the names of 34 men they arrested.
“We’re unable to release the names,” said Const. Rob Carver, a media spokesperson.
“It’s not public and we couldn’t do it.”
Carver made the comments while revealing the results of Project Guardian, which targeted pursuers of underage sex between June 16 and August 31.
He said 34 men – between the ages of 22 and 83 – were arrested for “street sexual exploitation” and charged with obtaining sexual services for consideration.
The average age of the girls selling sex was 13.
But Carver wouldn’t identify the buyers.
He said privacy provisions were at play because the men were “released on what’s called a promise to appear or an appearance notice.”
He said the names would appear on the court docket in about three weeks once charges were officially laid.
Red dresses have come to symbolize Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. (APTN file)
That has the head of an Ontario women’s shelter crying foul.
“We release the names of drunk drivers, we release the names of those who download pornography, we release the names of those who break into banks,” said Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre.
“But when it comes to the lives of women and girls, we’re just going to say, ‘OK, we’re not giving you that information?’”
Walker said men who buy sex are “sexual predators” who don’t care if girls are under-age or trafficked into the sex trade against their will.
She argues they’re just as dangerous as drug dealers and murderers.
“These women and other women are at great risk of future harm if we don’t name these men.”
Yet, it took Walker a decade to win over her police service.
“It took me 10 years – it took our agency 10 years – to get them to wake up and recognize this was sexual violence,” she said.
It was last February when then-London Police Chief John Pare agreed to change the naming policy.
“Our agency fought really hard, along with many other agencies like NWAC (Native Women’s Association of Canada) and ONWAC (Ontario Native Women’s Association of Canada), to advocate for criminalizing men who purchase sexual services,” Walker said.
The Minnesota Ramsey County sheriff’s office released these photos of men charged in an underage sex sting earlier this summer.
The move made London only the ninth city in Canada to no longer withhold the names of those charged with purchasing sex.
Pare noted London – like Winnipeg – is a major hub for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. And his force should use every tool to protect girls and women.
Walker couldn’t agree more, noting each police chief in Canada has the power to make the names public.
“Every single police chief across this country has the authority to make decisions around whether names will be released or not,” she said.
“That is within the Police Services Act. So we had a great chief. Finally.”
Yet her battle to smash “the patriarchy” is not over.
Walker said London media outlets have refused to publish the now-available names and hold sex buyers to the same level of accountability as those accused of other crimes.
“Every time it comes to the lives of women and girls: we are dismissed, we don’t count, women and girls are disposable and we are commodities,” she added, noting her agency has taken it upon itself to post the names on social media.
“And the media and police and many organizations across the country believe those men need to be protected.”
The Winnipeg Police Service withholds names of men arrested for buying sex from minors. (APTN file)
However, Sgt. Rick McDougall, of the Winnipeg Police counter-exploitation unit, said more than just privacy is at play.
He said first-time sex buyers are given the option of attending an education program instead of being prosecuted – so it’s not fair to release their names in advance.
He noted in exchange for spending a day at Winnipeg’s Prostitution Offender Program with counselling by members of The Salvation Army – similar diversion programs exist across Canada – men leave without a criminal record.
“Once the offenders go through that, and they get exposed to the true harms that they’re inflicting on these people…the deterring effect is huge,” said McDougall, noting the program boasts “a less than one per cent recidivism rate.”
But Alaya McIvor, an Indigenous survivor of sexual exploitation and advocate for those at risk, wonders why sex buyers deserve this special treatment.
“They’re exploiting a child in need of protection,” she said in an interview. “It should be a crime – it is a crime – to buy sex from minors.”
McIvor testified about her cousin who was murdered in 2011 at the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. She also organizes an annual memorial walk in Winnipeg on Mother’s Day.
“Why do guys get to go to a room for one day…when they just damaged a young kid for the rest of their lives?” she asked.
“They need to publish those names; they need to be held accountable.”
Under Project Guardian, McDougall noted a further 38 men were stopped and questioned at special checkstops. Five more were arrested from online sexual exploitation.
READ Project Guardian press release.