April 10, 2015

TORONTO (AP) An advocacy group is concerned sex workers' safety could be at risk if police launch sweeps to clean up city streets leading to this summer's Pan American Games.

Authorities in London cracked down on prostitution before the 2012 Olympics and police in Vancouver made efforts to curb street prostitution and petty crime before the Winter Games two years earlier.

The executive director of Maggie's, a Toronto organization run by and for sex workers, says fears over potential trafficking during sports competitions are exaggerated and sometimes serve as excuses to round up local and foreign sex workers.

Jean McDonald says she worries a stronger police presence could have a ''harsh impact'' on street-based sex workers, who would be forced to work in more isolated - and potentially unsafe - conditions.

Advocates for sex workers' rights have long argued that isolation exposes sex workers to harm and violence, and have pushed for the decriminalization of sex work.

The Integrated Security Unit is responsible for security for the games. Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Peter Leon says the ISU is aware of ''issues'' surrounding the games but would not say whether sex work or trafficking are a particular concern.

With hundreds of thousands of people expected to come for the Pan Am and Parapan Games in July and August, some officials - including the head of the Canadian Council of Churches - are predicting a boom in sex trafficking to the region.

However, a study examining the impact of the Vancouver Olympics suggests there was no significant influx of sex workers or reports of a spike in trafficking there. The survey of sex workers found there was less demand for their services, possibly due to the difficulty in meeting clients.

University of British Columbia researchers also found that ''police harassment/crackdowns can displace outdoor sex work markets to more isolated spaces away from health and support services and increase risks of violence and transmission of HIV/STIs.''

A report by the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women on sex trafficking during large sports events contends there is a wide discrepancy between claims made before events and what actually occurs.

''There is no evidence that large sporting events cause an increase in trafficking for prostitution,'' the organization said.

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