“We don’t want to acknowledge that they are young girls from our communities who’ve fled — and were preyed upon by some really nasty people. [They] deserve protection, from all of us, and from our police.”
Sex workers who are assaulted are too scared — of their attackers, and of the police — to speak out against the crimes, says the co-ordinator of a St. John’s support group. If victims were from any other profession, police would be investigating, says advocate
Re/Post of Article by Daniel MacEachern firstname.lastname@example.org
Published on October 28, 2014
Laura Winters, co-ordinator of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project, told the Telegram on Tuesday that — nearly a month after the project warned sex workers of brutal gang rapes — victims aren’t given the same consideration people in any other occupation would get.
“People seem to be wondering why these crimes aren’t being reported,” said Winters. “There’s a whole host of questions there. For us, we’re trying to get the message out amongst many sexual assaults that we hear about, this kind of thing. There’s a lot of people questioning whether or not this actually happened, and we’re here to say this kind of thing happens all the time, unfortunately, in this province.”
The stigma of sex work is a “huge barrier” in getting people to come forward, she said.
“It’s about not being treated the same as everyone else when you go to the hospital,” she said. “It’s about going to your doctor and feeling like you can’t speak about your work. It’s about feeling like you can’t go to the police because of fear of arrest, and even when the police say ‘No, we’re not going to arrest anybody,’ feeling like, ‘Well, I haven’t had such great interactions in the past,’ and just not feeling like all the services that exist for our citizens, people feel like they cannot avail of them.”
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary spokesman Const. Steve Curnew has repeatedly told media that police are not interested in prosecuting sex workers and have very little to go on to launch an investigation into allegations that a number of workers, both men and women, were taken to a hotel where they were raped and sodomized by up to 20 men.
Jenny Wright, executive director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, says they’ve received more information about the assaults that has been passed on to the police.
“Our hope is that enough information starts to come forward to do an investigation,” she said. “I also think that if those who were sexually assaulted were hairdressers, there would already be an ongoing investigation.”
Sex workers and those exploited by the sex trade are seen as disposable, said Wright. “We see them as ‘other’ than us, not members of our community. And although there has been some really positive support coming out of our community, and we have to say we’ve been really pleased with the support that’s come, I think if these were not sex workers, there would be an investigation opened, and that’s a concern for us.”
Wright pointed to a 2011 report on the province’s sex trade that the government declined to release, citing concerns for public safety. The report made several recommendations for support for people in, and victims of, the sex trade, and Wright said the government’s squashing of the report is indicative of the occupation’s stigma, and was seen as a betrayal of trust by workers who were interviewed for the report.
That report could have opened people’s eyes to some harsh truths about the exploitation of people in the province, she said.
“We don’t want to look at that,” Wright said. “We don’t want to acknowledge that they are young girls from our communities who’ve fled around the bay and come into St. John’s, and were preyed upon by some really nasty people. Those people deserve protection, from all of us, and from our police.”