Activist looks to bring plight of deadly sex trade to UN

by Caroline Zentner, Lethbridge Herald

The hundreds of murdered and missing women who have worked in the sex trade to survive inspired a Vancouver woman to work towards nationwide change.
Jennifer Allan, a First Nations human rights and sex worker activist, knows the dangers these women face firsthand. At 18, she became involved in the sex trade to escape violence and addiction at home and had been sexually exploited as a child. Her pimps moved her to Alberta where she worked for various madams. Then she got a criminal record for assaulting a police officer and was unable to work as an escort anymore because she couldn’t get a licence. She also couldn’t work at other jobs she had experience doing such as security and telemarketing. That forced her to work on the street.

“I worked in the survival sex trade to pay my rent, buy my groceries, pay my bills, buy myself clothes. Due to the environment I was stuck in, I ended up getting addicted to crack cocaine. That pretty much took control of my life,” Allan said before her Wednesday evening talk at a special session of the Southern Alberta Council on Public Affairs held at the University of Lethbridge.

She moved to Vancouver and worked on the downtown east side until she got a wake up call.

“I got attacked by a pimp and he threatened to kill me. I had enough and I realized that what he said to me was true. He said he could kill me and nobody would care about it and he was right,” she said.

She got treatment and steered her life in a different direction. She started Jen’s Kitchen, a support program that provides advocacy, outreach and food relief for women and their children.

The difference between sex workers and survival sex workers is the former choose to engage in sex work.  “People who work in survival sex do not choose to be there. They’re there due to poverty, addiction, mental health or homelessness, those are some of the reasons,” she said, adding many survival sex workers are aboriginal women.

“I’m going across Canada collecting names and numbers of missing and murdered survival sex workers so I can show that in Canada we have an epidemic of violence and discrimination against this group of people,” she said. Allan’s goal is to write a report in conjunction with Kwantlen University and Amnesty International Canada and deliver it to the United Nations by 2013. “Once we can show that we have an epidemic of this then we can get the government to start changing laws or striking laws down or getting social services put in place,” she said.

An audio recording of Allan’s talk is available on the SACPA website.