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sex work

Sex Worker Advocates Slam Bizarre Anti-Sex Trafficking Campaign

Crime Stoppers has some questionable tips for spotting the signs of sex trafficking.
Images via Crime Stoppers

Campaigns targeting sex trafficking in Toronto are getting increasingly bizarre. Most recently, a site for a fake hotel named Hotel de Jeunesse (or "hotel of youth") and an Instagram with illustrations bearing resemblance to OVO colours have surfaced via Crime Stoppers.

The faux hotel site implores the public to "learn the signs" of sex trafficking, even though some of those it lists could have nothing to do with trafficking, such as a "large age gap between male and female with no explanation for relationship" and "young girls in possession of expensive clothing, phones, and jewelry with no reasonable means to afford them."


A room option on the fake hotel site. Image via screenshot

The "dining" section of the site list a number of drugs, including heroin, OxyContin, and cocaine.

The Instagram campaign, called "learn_the_signs," gives the public vague tips for spotting sex trafficking, such as "someone who constantly has a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on their door" and "people who decline cleaning services for extended periods of time."

The problem is that some of these tips could be indicators of consensual sex work, or might not even indicate sex work nor sex trafficking.

Elene Lam, executive director of Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network, said these campaigns are another example of the misunderstanding law enforcement and the public has about the distinction between sex trafficking and consensual sex work.

"It is conflating sex work and trafficking," Lam told VICE. "It is creating moral panic of society, saying it is dangerous and we need to do something."

In Canada, it's not illegal for adults to sell sex—only for people to buy it.

Sex workers sometimes work out of hotels, and Lam said it's especially concerning that these kind of campaigns embolden the public to act as "heroes" in situations they may not actually understand. Giving the public vague tips about how to spot sex trafficking puts sex workers in a riskier position, making them have to go to lengths to avoid civilians, including hotel employees. This makes them even less likely to ask for help if they become victims of a crime.


Jelena Vermilion, 23, an Ontario-based sex worker, said some of the "signs," such as the one about the declining cleaning services, are things she has done as an independent escort.

"This conversation about trafficking needs to be separated from people who are willingly engaging in the [sex work] industry or working with other people to turn a profit, because that's not exploitative at the end of the day," Vermilion said.

"Making websites that are fear-mongering and setting up directives for citizens to essentially tattle-tale on their peers is not something that is going to be conducive to a conversation about sex work or about this legitimate problem with trafficking."

Lam said this campaign only adds to confusion that already exists in society, negatively impacting sex workers and reinforcing stigma.

"We urge Crime Stoppers and Toronto police to stop, remove this website, and stop this kind of conflating sex work and trafficking," Lam said. "Stop creating the panic."