By Joe Lofaro
December 17th 2014
A former sex worker turned advocate is calling for a Vanier drop-in centre for people working the sex trade, who she says are noticing a heightened police presence since new legislation took effect Dec. 6.
A new centre would operate from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. and would serve as a safe space for sex workers who need to escape violence, seek counselling for mental health issues, or help with addictions.
Jennifer Bigelow says she left the sex trade after a violent attack by a client last year. At a luncheon in Ottawa on Wednesday, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, she recounted the traumatic incident.
She said in the New Year she is going to enroll in a social worker program and hopes to become a counsellor and work in a drop-in on Montreal Road — a place she says is a “high traffic” area for sex workers.
“At 4 o’clock in the morning when it’s raining and you have perverts driving around harassing you as well as two police cruisers, you need a place to go to. Or you’ve had a sh–ty date. You need a place to be,” she said. “You need people who understand you. And not from 9 to 5.”
Even though she is no longer working on the street, she still says “we” when talking about sex workers. “My heart is still on the streets with those girls. I lived it for so many years.
The new federal legislation, Bill C-36, targets johns and pimps by making the purchase of sex illegal. The government also lauds the bill for making it easier for vulnerable women to exit prostitution.
But, Bigelow disagrees with the suggestion from the Conservative government that sex workers should be viewed as victims and argues the new laws will force them more underground in unsafe conditions.
“Us women are not victims. We chose to do this. We chose to put on our high heels, paint our faces, fill our purse with condoms and go out,” said Bigelow. “The profession isn’t going to go away. The girls are always going to be out there.”