Tag Archives: Homelessness
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.”
Advocacy groups say Ottawa sex workers need more social services, not legislation.
By Paula McCooey,
December 17th 2014.
A new survey by a pair of advocacy groups looking at how the drug and sex trades are intertwined in Ottawa highlights just how many sex workers are homeless and says many live in fear of being mistreated by clients or police.
The survey was conducted by PROUD — or Participatory Research in Ottawa, Understanding Drugs, along with DUAL, Drug Users Advocacy League.
The groups surveyed 858 people at community health centres across the city from March 2013 to January 2014. Among those questioned, 108 said they had engaged in sex work over the past year.
Of those 108, there were 68.5 per cent who said they were not living in their own house or apartment. That same percentage said they had spent at least one night in a shelter over the past year.
The survey also found that 77 per cent of the sex workers reported being stopped or searched by police without arrest; and that 50.6 per cent said they had experienced verbal abuse by the police.
The study’s release Wednesday coincided with the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
About 50 community members met at the PROUD and DUAL centre on Murray Street to speak about the results and emphasize the need to protect the rights of sex workers and fight against the criminalization and stigma of sex work.
“POWERS’s position is that sex work is not inherently dangerous but rather it’s the social and legal context in which it takes place that makes it dangerous,” says Emily Symons, chair of the group Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate and Resist.
Of particular interest to these groups is the new law Bill C-36 governing sex work that was brought into effect on Dec. 6. The so-called Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act largely criminalizes the buying of sex.
They say the new law will continue to stifle workers’ ability to communicate freely with clients and therefore put sex workers at risk of violence.
“It’s now illegal in Canada to advertise sexual services and what this means is sex workers are no longer able to communicate opening and honestly with their clients about services they are willing to perform and services they are not willing to perform,” said Symons. “And it also means that sex workers are not able to negotiate safer sex practices with their clients.”
Jennifer Bigelow, 46, a former sex worker turned advocate said she is concerned the new laws will damage inroads they’ve made with police over the past decade to help keep sex workers safe. Now she feels workers will have to “go more into seclusion.”
“So now do you not only have to fear the violence of the johns, you have to fear the harassment and probably the violence and brutality of the police,” says Bigelow, adding she’s noticed a larger police presence on streets that are high traffic areas for sex workers since the bill was put into place.
Rather than criminalize sex work, Bigelow would like to see it legalized and controlled with more social support so workers don’t have to fear for their lives
“My passion is to open up a centre in Vanier where 90 per cent of the prostitution happens,” she says. “Where they can drop in, always have condoms and always have drug harm reduction tools and be provided with a counsellor because you never know when you are going to have that bad day.”
By the Numbers
44.8 per cent of female participants had received money, drugs or gifts for sex
31.3 per cent of male participants had given money, drugs or gifts for sex
Of the 108 participants who had engaged in sex work in the past 12 months:
68.5 per cent were not living in their own house or apartment
52.7 per cent had spent at least one night on the street or outdoors in a park
31.5 per cent had experienced violence from a client in the previous 12 months
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