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Increase in sexual assaults expected during 2010 Olympics

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For the price of just one of VANOC's 4,600 gas-guzzling GM trucks, the Howe Sound Women's Centre (HSWC) in Squamish could service all of the international women and children experiencing domestic and sexual assaults during next month's Winter Olympics.

According to Tara Franz, the Executive Director of the Centre, local agencies are expected to absorb a 10 to 36% increase in violence against women and children during the Olympics, statistics gained from the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

A statement released last October, by the HSWC states that "the B.C. government has refused to fund victims' support during the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Games, while billions are being spent on security."

The total security costs for the 2010 Olympics are expected to be at least $1 billion.

Ironically, Joan McIntyre, the MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding, is also the chair of B.C's Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth, but she has failed to request extra funding for vulnerable members of her own constituency. After all, there are more important matters to attend to, like soirees and VIP parties during the Olympic period.

The HSWC has their hands full with community services that include Pearl's Place Transition House, Pearl's 2nds, a multi-cultural outreach program, a free legal clinic and S.A.F.F.E - the Sea to Sky Adolescents Freedom from Exploitation Project.

According to Shannon Cooley Herdman, the Women's Program Manager, "Staff looked at what was needed under ideal circumstances and we would need about $35,000 to provide services for both the Olympics and Paralympic games."

To put this into perspective, the torch relay will cost Whistler taxpayers $80,000 for just three hours. Surely the government could have diverted a miniscule amount of the $6 billion being spent on the 2010 Olympics to fund women shelters and services?

Instead, the Howe Sound Women's Centre will have to rely on 35 to 40 volunteers, spread across the corridor to assist during the games.

The Canadian media has focused very little on this important issue, instead focusing its efforts on the Coca Cola-sponsored torch relay and promoting VANOC's Olympic greenwash.

Why the increase?

A 2007 COHRE report, Fair Play for Housing Rights found that "Hosting the [Seoul 1988] Olympic games was part of what came to be described as the ‘3S' policy of promoting ‘sex, sports and [TV] screens to distract the public from the bloody political and economic struggles taking place..."

A report entitled, Faster, Higher, Stronger: Preventing Human Trafficking at the 2010 Olympics authored by UBC law professor Benjamin Perrin, points out an increase of 95 per cent in the number of human trafficking victims identified by Greek authorities during the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Researchers estimate that 40,000 women and girls were trafficked to Athens during the 2004 Olympics, while an estimated 10,000 women were imported during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

According to Cooley-Herdman, "The sex trade industry, in all its forms, is everywhere and any young woman, of any background could be targeted to participate. Whenever you have large events, sexual harassment and drink spiking increases."

This is especially true in a resort like Whistler that attracts thousands of young, attractive seasonal workers from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the U.K.

A woman or child who is assaulted during the 2010 Olympics will be transported by volunteers to a safe house/shelter in Squamish - an hour south of Whistler. Since Whistler lacks a shelter, the resort's homeless population have also been given bus tickets to Squamish, where they will be housed in the corridor's only men's shelter. For obvious reasons, Whistler chooses to hide its not-so-glamorous social issues.

It's difficult to know how many women will be trafficked in Whistler during the games, since Whistler's sex industry operates largely underground, other than the few escort ads seen in the back of the Pique Newsmagazine.

Outreach during the Games

Volunteers trained by the Howe Sound Women's Centre will be handing out posters, magnets, buttons and stickers at local restaurants, hotels and public events to inform visiting women of all the available services if assaulted during the games. The HSWCS will also operate a 1-800 number and will respond to all calls. They suggest that women have a safety plan in place during the games, that includes  a list of emergency contacts and to let your friends and family know where you will be.

The Howe Sound Women's Centre was hoping to operate a kiosk at the games, but abandoned that idea given all the bureaucratic red tape. The HSWC is still looking for a free space available 24/7, where women can be taken to for counseling and a safe space in Whistler.

In much the same way that the Olympics have galvanized the anti-Olympic, social justice and anti-poverty groups, the B.C. government's funding cuts have coalesced organizations dealing in anti-violence sector from Vancouver to Whistler.

To learn more about the Howe Sound Women's Centre, to volunteer during the games or to donate, please visit http://hswc.seatoskycommunity.org/.

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