Sex workers won’t be ‘victims’

Protest draws attention to recent violence against prostitutes

By Meghan Hurley, Ottawa Citizen

Ottawa-based sex workers and their allies called for an end to prostitution sweeps Saturday during a protest held on Parliament Hill.

About 50 people participated in the protest, which took place just more than a week after Ottawa police chief Vern White issued an unprecedented public safety warning to women after police investigators discovered a pattern in homicides among city prostitutes.

“By coming together, we are not only drawing attention to the violence. We are also serving notice that we will not be silent,” said Christine Bruckert, vice-chair of POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau, Work, Educate and Resist).

“We are serving notice that we will not let ourselves be defined as victims. We are so much more.”

A sex worker, who spoke to the Citizen on the condition of anonymity, said a fear of police makes it nearly impossible for prostitutes to protect themselves.

“If I’m in a lit area, the cops have a better shot at seeing you,” the woman said. “You’re going to walk in the darkest area possible so they don’t see you.”

Walking the streets in groups isn’t an option, either. When a group of workers stand together, several police cars often pull up to find out what the women are up to, she said.

“How do you want us to do our jobs, how do you want us to work, when they are policing that much?” the woman asked. “They’re putting us at risk, really.”

Supporters read prepared statements from Ottawa-area sex workers who didn’t want to speak publicly. The sex workers claimed they are under siege by police.

“They make sure that whoever I’m with knows that they are with a prostitute,” one card read. “Anyone they see me with, they try to put me down in front of them, working or not working.”

A moment of silence was held for all sex workers killed in Ottawa after their names were read out over a megaphone, including the name of the most recent sex-worker homicide, 23-year-old Leeanne Lawson. She was found dead Sept. 2 in a parking lot near King Edward Ave.

Police say they have six unsolved homicides of sex workers dating back 21 years.

A woman, who has supported sex workers for more than 15 years, said the number of prostitutes she has known who were killed is overwhelming.

“Grief is making me exhausted. I’m tired of listening to the news … going to throw up because within 24 hours, I’ll find out another young woman I care about is dead,” the woman said.

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