Ottawa sex workers rights organization wins award

An Ottawa-based activist organization that works with sex workers has won an Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) award for a resource kit it created to look at issues facing sex workers in Ottawa and Gatineau.Representatives from Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau, Work, Educate and Resist (POWER) will be presented with the Jay Browne Living Legacy Award on Nov 15 at OHTN’s annual conference in Toronto.Frédérique Chabot from POWER learned about the award on Nov 3.

“This is such a prestigious award — an award I thought a group like POWER could never win,” she says.

Lara Purvis (left) and Frédérique Chabot hold POWER’s banner.
(Noreen Fagan)

The toolkit, POWER, sex worker rights and the Challenges Report, is a synopsis of a report, bearing the same name, that was published in 2010. Chabot wrote the report with Christine Bruckert, associate professor of criminology at the University of Ottawa.

“We decided that it would be a good idea to address barriers that sex workers face when they try and access social and health services. [We wanted] to develop a tool to try and address those issues,” says Chabot.

The toolkit gives an account of conditions experienced by sex workers in the Ottawa and Gatineau area and offers tip and strategies for service providers working with sex workers. The simplest tip highlights the need for anyone working with sex workers to be conscious of their own values, prejudices, attitudes and behaviour.

POWER’s Lara Purvis helped write the handbook along with Chabot and Bruckert. The three selected key points from the main report and condensed them into a kit.

“It needed to be just a little more down to earth, human and practical in terms of this is what research has told us, this is what Ottawa sex workers have said, this is what they are saying they need,” Purvis says. She says that although it was written specifically for service providers, they hope police officers, special task forces, journalists, educators, social workers and communities will also read it.

The award money will be determined after POWER submits a proposal stating how the funds will be used. Chabot and Purvis hope to use the money for more research to expand the toolkit provincewide.

“It is [an] opportunity for people to learn and for more information to get out there,” Purvis says. “I think that the issue with stigma is the lack of awareness, and increasing awareness is going to help us move towards the decriminalization, once people start understanding the many layers of these issues.”