Event targets red light realities

A red-light district is coming to downtown Vernon April 1.

But instead of prostitutes working the windows (as they do in places like Amsterdam’s infamous red-light district), those in Vernon’s downtown windows will be protesting human sex trafficking.

The Salvation Army and Talkin Donkey are hosting the human sex trafficking awareness event called Red-light: Take back the hour.

In the days leading up to the event there is a fundraising challenge.

Individuals have until Wednesday to raise funds, which will be directed towards rescuing and restoring the lives of sex-trafficked victims (which includes those in the sex trade).

Sponsorship forms (and waivers for those under 18) are available at facebook/com/talkindonkey. Forms turned into the Talkin Donkey by Wednesday will be tallied and the top collectors will get a half-hour time slot in Vernon’s pseudo red-light district.

They will be sporting T-shirts saying ‘Sex Slavery isn’t Sexy’ in  the windows of Brenda Hala’s Photography and Los Heusos between 7 p.m. and 1 a.m. on 30th Avenue on April 1.

“The top 20 people who raise money are going to stand in the window,” said Clint Houlbrook, Salvation Army youth consultant.

“We’re going to be engaging whoever is downtown that night,” said Houlbrook, as the issue of sex trafficking will force onlookers to think about how it exploits women and children. Houlbrook also encourages the community to think about what goes on behind that window in real red-light districts.

Meanwhile, those taking part will be given a first-hand feel of what it is like to parade themselves in front of the public.

Although the event is taking part on April Fool’s Day, Houlbrook says, “this is no joke.

“The joke is we are not as aware of it as we should be.”

Human sex trafficking is a horrific reality for millions of victims worldwide. It is the fastest growing international crime and sex trafficking in particular exploits women and children. Pimps and traffickers oppress victims on the streets and behind the facade of escort agencies, massage parlors and brothels.

For every $1,000 raised, one life will be saved (estimated figure from International Justice Mission).

“The more money we raise the more people we can set free and the more doors we can open,” said Houlbrook.

While the issue of sex trafficking may not appear as prevalent in smaller centres like Vernon (compared to Vancouver), it is an issue everywhere.

“The nature of human sex trafficking is such that it probably does go on but because it is illegal it’s just not as in-your-face or as prevalent,” said Houlbrook.

Joining those raising funds for the event is local celebrity April Lyn of Sun FM.

The fundraiser is part of the Talkin Donkey’s $25,000 Break the Chains campaign.

The funds will go to the International Justice Mission (which rescues victims from pimps and traffickers behind the front of red-light districts, brothels, etc.) and the Salvation Army (which operates a centre in Vancouver to restore rescued and escaped victims of trafficking with counselling, help navigating the legal system to charge their traffickers and room and board).