By: Megan Gillis,
December 17th 2014.
On the street, she said, there were beatings by one police officer — then the compassion of another who’d offer food or a ride home on a cold night.
Then, there was the time she felt terrified in a john’s car — relief coming only, she says, when she spotted a passerby to hear her scream.
“My angels were there with me that day,” said Jennifer Bigelow, once a street sex worker using crack cocaine who said she’s a daughter, sister, mother and now an advocate.
The 46-year-old told her story at an event Wednesday marking the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, arguing new prostitution laws that took effect Dec. 6 push the vulnerable deep into the shadows when what they need is help. Her dream is a drop-in centre offering safety, harm reduction supplies and counselling.
“Now we have to hide, we have to go more into seclusion,” she said. “In my case I was lucky — it was a public place.
“My heart is still on the streets with those girls.”
Preliminary research findings released at the event at the Murray St. home of PROUD — Participatory Research in Ottawa, Understanding Drugs — highlighted the links between addiction, selling sex and homelessness.
Of 858 drug users interviewed from March 2013 to January 2014 about the past 12 months, 108 had done sex work. More than two-thirds of that group had been in a shelter and while almost a third had experienced violence from a client four in 10 said they didn`t feel comfortable calling the police.
Of those who`d done sex work, 77 said they`d been stopped or searched by police without arrest. Half reported verbal abuse or harassment and just under a third physical abuse.
Emily Symons of Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist argued that the Conservative government’s new laws force sex workers to choose between the risk of arrest and the risk of violence.
Criminalizing buying sex makes johns fearful of taking time to negotiate a date, banning sex ads is a barrier to working indoors in relative safety and making it illegal to communicate for the purpose of prostitution “near” schools and daycares pushes street workers from urban areas where they could pair up in well-lit areas, taking down license plate numbers.
“Do I want to work in safety — and get arrested, or I do I want to work in dangerous conditions but at least I won`t go to jail tonight?” Symons said