News /Media

Consultation hears port traffic raises vulnerability for exploitation in St. John’s, Nfld.

Published: May 8, 2018

by Matt Gardner, The Anglican Church of Canada

Sea traffic is a major means of transport for human trafficking and exploitation in regions on the Atlantic coast, representatives from dioceses in the Ecclesiastical Province of Canada learned at a recent consultation in St. John’s, Nfld.

This second of four national consultations on the eradication of human trafficking took place from April 16-18 at Queen’s College, Memorial University of Newfoundland. The event followed an earlier consultation for the Province of Ontario in Pickering.

The eastern consultation raised the particular concern of how human trafficking manifests itself in seafaring regions with major port centres. The Ecclesiastical Province of Canada includes the three dioceses in Newfoundland as well as the dioceses of Quebec, Montreal, Fredericton, and Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

“We identified that in each of the dioceses of the ecclesiastical province, there are at least one or two major ports,” organizing team member the Rev. Canon David Burrows said. “So, aspects of human trafficking are pretty high from the perspective of international travel and labour exploitation, all those various pieces.”

One of the major lessons from the consultation, Burrows said, was that through traffic at seaports in Eastern regions, “we have these potentials for vulnerability in each of our dioceses that are just on our door front.”

Labour exploitation is a concern in dioceses represented at the consultation. Participants learned that exploitation related to sex work accounts for approximately 10 to 15 per cent of trafficking cases in the region, with other forms of labour exploitation making up the majority.

Burrows cited two cases in the Greater St. John’s region over the past decade in which container ships arrived with the owners of the vessel bankrupt, and foreign sailors did not have their own passports to return home. As a result, the sailors spent several months aboard the boat while local community members provided support for items such as food and medical care.

“One of the conversations that we had around that was the continued support and resources needed to be given to the Mission to Seafarers to help establish and continue the great relations that we have with seafarers as they come into the various ports, so that we can identify when there may or may not be issues with regards to equity and the support of workers in the Maritime trade.”

A key point at the consultation was a community forum on April 17, at which participants invited the wider public to join the conversation about the eradication of human trafficking. The ensuing discussion brought together city councillors, university students, and community groups engaged in support of vulnerable and marginalized groups.

Among these organizations is Living in Community, a new board formed in the St. John’s region aimed at integrating the community into accepting and acknowledging the presence of sex work and making it a safe environment, while also addressing potentials for human trafficking within the sex trade.

Another active group is the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.), a sex worker advocacy program that supports women with past or present experience in the sex trade. The only program of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador, S.H.O.P. provides outreach in St. John’s and surrounding communities.

Speaking at the forum, S.H.O.P. program coordinator Heather Jarvis discussed the group’s “rare and unique partnership” with representatives of the Anglican community, and how dominant practices and policies in the anti-trafficking movement can often unintentionally have the effect of further marginalizing sex workers, Indigenous women, criminalized women, and other vulnerable groups.

One of the most important lessons that Anglicans have learned, Jarvis said, is the importance of recognizing that people do not always fit easily into one category. She offered the example of anti-trafficking groups or individuals deciding that a person who does not identify as a “trafficked victim” does not require support, which can leave that person vulnerable to actual trafficking.

“To be perfectly honest, historically the church has not been friends to the kinds of communities that I work on,” Jarvis said. “So, to have such a strong partnership is really something that we’re very proud of.

“The Anglican Church has been instrumental in helping our program do some of the frontline human rights-based work that we do, which does include fighting human trafficking, but also fighting the ways in which human trafficking can sometimes have even marginalized people left behind.”

“There are sex workers that are part of the Anglican community,” she added. “And they’ve been very willing to acknowledge that and recognize that the work of the Anglican Church needs to sometimes be outside of the church institution itself, and in our streets and in our communities. And what that work looks like is building relationships, like they’ve done with us.”

Dr. Andrea Mann, General Synod lead staff for the human trafficking consultations along with Dr. Ryan Weston, said the St. John’s symposium drew a comparable number of participants as the gathering in Pickering. She described those in attendance as representing a cross-section of Anglicans, hailing from large and small cities, port towns, rural areas, and small fishing outposts, but united by “a strong passion for social justice, and a keen willingness to learn and to be effective leaders in eradicating trafficking and slavery in their local dioceses and local communities.”

Worship and liturgy throughout the consultation was prepared by the Ven. Charlene Taylor, who highlighted connections between biblical stories and people engaged in forced migration and slavery. As at the Ontario consultation, a chaplain was present to help participants process the often-difficult subject matter.

“These gatherings raise our awareness about physical and emotional violence and fraud and harm, especially against children and young people,” Mann said. “They require learning a number of uncomfortable and devastating truths about some of our local communities.

 

“They can be overwhelming conversations and presentations on both the scale of trafficking and slavery in the world today, and its organization of the profits and the greed, and of how we are complicit in these systems if we don’t know more. I think people were particularly struck with how we can so quickly become complicit if we don’t understand the supply chains involved in the goods and services that we import.”

Following the consultations for the ecclesiastical provinces of Ontario and Canada, two more regional consultations for the ecclesiastical provinces of Rupert’s Land and BC/Yukon on eradicating human trafficking will take place before General Synod 2019.

 St. John's residents split on sex work decriminalization

Published: April 26, 2018

by Mark Quinn, CBC News

 

A proposal to decriminalize sex work in Canada is strongly supported by at least one St. John's councillor but not everyone in the city agrees it's a good idea.

Coun. Hope Jamieson believes decriminalization will make sex work less dangerous.

"It would mean that there would be safe places to work. I think that when we regulate industries it makes it safer for the people who work within those industries to go to work every day," she said.

Jamieson was reacting to a motion to decriminalize sex work that was adopted at a federal Liberal Party policy convention in Halifax last week.

That motion is a long way from translating into legislative changes. In fact, political watchers believe a bill proposing that change is unlikely before the next federal election.

Jamieson said if it does happen, decriminalization would force St. John's to change its regulations about sex work, something she says is already beginning to happen.

"It would mean that we would need to find a place for sex work within our development regulations and in fact that's what we are already doing in lifting the ban on massage parlours in St. John's."

In 2015 a cap was placed on how many massage parlours can exist in St. John's.

Jamieson said that moratorium remains in place until the city's development regulations are revised — a process currently underway.​

In downtown St. John's, not everyone on Water Street agrees with the decriminalization of sex work.

"It should stay the way it is now," said Cathy Murdoch. "I think [the current legislation] is working and the system is working and it should stay the same way that it is."

In 2013, The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the country's anti-prostitution laws in a unanimous decision, and gave Parliament one year to come up with new legislation.

The court's decision struck down laws prohibiting brothels, living off the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients. The top court ruled the laws were too broad and "grossly disproportionate."

In 2014, then prime minister Steven Harper passed the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act which aimed to crack down on customers and sellers of sex services.

"Today our government is making prostitution illegal for the first time," then justice minister Peter MacKay said in a written statement at the time.

A member of a group that represents residents in a St. John's neighbourhood where tension with the sex trade has been high supports decriminalization.

"I think most of the residents would agree with me that we would very much look forward to a decision like this," said Robyn LeGrow, of the Tessier Park Living In Community committee.

She hopes legalization of sex work would move it off the streets of her neighbourhood and make the industry safer for people who work in it.

"Legalizing the sex trade would actually help the women. Most of the residents are concerned for the safety of the women," said LeGrow.

"We hear them be accosted by men late at night. We hear them being chased by men. If we provided a safe legal place to do the work they are doing, it would allow regulation and safety for the women."

 Needle disposal boxes, better lighting coming to troubled St. John's neighbourhood

Published: April 22, 2018

by Andrew Sampson, CBC News

Changes are coming to a troubled St. John's neighbourhood known for sex work and a history of criminal activity, following months of meetings with a wide-ranging group that aims to bring together the concerns of residents, women's groups and city officials.

Happy City St. John's, on behalf of the Living in Community steering committee, has announced needle disposal boxes and improved lighting will be installed in the area in the coming months.

"There's some new lighting going in on the green space by Tessier Park because that was identified by residents and by workers as a place that really didn't feel safe," said committee member Hope Jamieson, Ward 2 councillor. "And so a simple thing, like adding a couple streetlights, will really change the way that neighbourhood feels."

The changes are small steps, but ones that show an encouraging trend after years of conflict on how to handle the unwanted activity on the street.

"[Meetings] have been happening for six months, slow going, but we've developed some trust between each other that hasn't been there before," said Robyn Legrow, who represents area residents on the Living in Community committee.

Many people in the neighbourhood, which includes Long's Hill and Livingstone Place, have raised concerns about the crime and drug use, and how that might affect their personal safety.

Meanwhile, advocates for sex workers worry about maintaining the safety of the women working on the streets. 

Legrow said some residents have installed white-noise machines in their living rooms to drown out sound from the street.

"You can imagine if you're being woken up nightly by women screaming in the streets, you're trying to take your child out for a walk and you see used needles on the ground, and you witness people with needles in their arms, this all takes a toll on a resident and you become almost fearful in your home," she said.

Jamieson said the meetings are a place for difficult conversations to occur and, hopefully, for common ground to be found between disparate parties.

"The idea around Living in Community is that no one group is advanced at the expense of the other, and I think that that's how we find long-term, lasting solutions to these issues."

Living in Community is modelled after a similar program in Vancouver.

For the past two months, Jamieson has been hosting an additional public meeting at the crypt in the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist to gather feedback for Living in Community.

Some of the things discussed included changing the flow of traffic to prevent drivers from lingering in the area.

Jamieson said she can already see the changes that can happen when people work through their differences.

"I was speaking with one of the representatives, a local business owner who sits on the group, and he was saying as a person who had no background about the sex trade or about any of these issues coming in, he feels like he's learned so much, and he's seen a lot of shifts in the way people interact with one other in that short period of time," she said.

As for Legrow, she said one of the best ways for her group to further its goals is to learn the proper terminology and treat sex workers with respect.

 

"At the Living in Community table we actually had some stigma training, and we're planning some harm-reduction training, just so that we know the situation, we know why the women are there," she said. "We really want to hear their side of things."

"Part of our goal as residents is to try and figure out a way that we can make someone with lived experience comfortable enough to come talk to us and have a dialogue with us." 

Still, Legrow said finding solutions won't be easy.

"It's community building and trust building, and unfortunately that doesn't happen overnight."

 St. John's massage parlour ban to remain, for now

Published: February 12, 2018

by David Maher, The Telegram

 

St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen isn’t ruling out reversing a ban on permits for adult massage parlours, but there’s a lot to consider before the idea hits the council table.

In 2015, the ban was introduced to stop the city from allowing more adult massage parlours to open in St. John’s. Residents were concerned at the time about a massage parlour on Wood Street.

Breen says he won’t say no to revisiting the idea, but there are no immediate plans.

“Anything can be revisited at any time. The moratorium was brought in because of the issues around the residents who were having problems in the residential areas, as well as commercial areas,” said Breen.

“The moratorium was brought in at that time for that reason. If it’s to be revisited, then it would go through council.”

Ward 2 Coun. Hope Jamieson has been working with the Living in Community committee that’s been in place for the last three months. The committee has been bringing together residents, business owners, city officials, police and sex workers to try to find solutions to difficult questions surrounding street-based sex work.

Jamieson says lifting the moratorium could be part of the solution to issues surrounding street-based sex work, which right now is concentrated in the Long’s Hill-Tessier Park area.

“I think there is will among residents to have more of the sex trade move indoors, which can’t happen in the environment where there’s a moratorium on massage parlours,” said Jamieson.

“It is in the public interest to move more of the sex trade indoors. It is in the interest of the safety of sex workers to move more of the sex trade indoors. But if we’re going to do that we need to look at including the massage parlour in the development regulations.”

Jamieson says the solution may be to allow massage parlours to open in development zones away from residential areas. The idea would be to allow adult massage parlours in some kind of commercial zone.

“I think that’s a tidy way to reconcile the concerns of the industry and concerns of residents,” said Jamieson.

Residents in the area have been calling for street-based sex work to be removed from the Long’s Hill area. Jamieson says that solution has been tried before and only serves to move the problems, not solve them.

“I struggle with the question of ‘can we just move them’ because what we don’t need is more disappeared women. I think if we’re going to work with various groups to change where the majority of street-level sex work takes place, then that needs to take place in consultation with residents, the RNC and, most importantly, with sex workers,” said Jamieson.

“I’m not interested in a sledgehammer approach here. I don’t think that’s how we gain a long-term solution.”

 Closed-door meetings aim to open discussion about co-existence in St. John’s neighbourhood frequented by sex workers

Published: February 9, 2018

by David Maher, The Telegram

The long road to solutions for sex workers, residents, police, businesses and the city as a whole starts at a committee table.

It all started almost two years ago when Heather Jarvis, program co-ordinator for the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP), made a call to the Living in Community group in Vancouver.

After the initial conversations, members of that group flew to St. John’s for meetings to educate advocates on the process and how it can work in St. John’s.

St. John’s is the first city outside of Vancouver to try the model and see what difference it can make toward helping all aspects of the community coexist, including sex workers.

“This is a difficult process. It’s about being able to have those sometimes difficult, open conversations and work through them,” Jarvis said.

“The Living in Community model — 13 years on now — is seeing incredible successes. Partnerships and open dialogues have been created. Different policing approaches have been established, training has been created and given to thousands of people at this point, and more neighbourhoods are picking up these approaches and strategies where you come together.”

After the initial meetings, a formal committee was struck.

With SHOP being one of the stakeholders at the table looking for answers, the lead on the committee was passed over to Happy City, led by former chair Josh Smee, who remains lead on the committee process. Current Happy City chair Rob Nolan is also intimately involved.

Representatives from the municipal government and from the RNC, resident representatives, members of SHOP, local business owners, and sex workers now meet monthly to have open, frank dialogue.

Smee says Happy City is uniquely positioned to lead the process.

“We have no background in working on these issues, but what we do is get people together to talk about how to make their community, their neighbourhood, better,” Smee said.

“That was seen as a good fit. We could be a bit of a neutral arbiter in this process. We’re not advocates for any one group. We’re just trying to get the conversation going.”

The meetings are restricted to those invited, as a measure to ensure people can speak openly without worry of identities of those who may wish to remain anonymous getting out to the public.

In Vancouver, Living in Community is now an organization with full-time employees who work daily to advance the issues found around the table. Nolan says it’s too early to say if anything similar will happen in St. John’s.

“We are closely dealing with Living in Community. They have a 12-year history. It doesn’t mean that such an organization would start in St. John’s, but it’s very possible,” he said.

Smee says while some short-term changes have already taken place, it’s going to be a long process.

“It takes a while to get to a comfort level on these things. It’s a tough issue for people. It’s an emotional issue. It’s a challenging issue to talk about,” he said.

“It’s tough to create spaces, especially where people who work in sex work feel safe to come and participate. These things take time to develop. This is a long-term process.”

Robyn LeGrow, who represents the residents of the Terrier Place-Long’s Hill neighbourhood on the committee, says one of the problems for residents is the confidential nature of the meetings. While she recognizes the need for confidentiality, she says it’s tough for her to build trust with residents and show them that work is being done to address their needs.

“There’s not many people who are optimistic about the Living in Community process. Even those who are open minded, the ones who have been there for eight years, they’d rather see (the sex workers) go,” LeGrow said.

“I’m feeling hopeful. Since I became the residents’ representative, I’ve done a lot of work to try and open up communications between SHOP and us.”

For Alice, one of the sex workers sitting at the table, just being given the opportunity to have her voice heard is all the difference in the world.

“When, ever before, have you heard of sex workers being invited to a roundtable discussion about sex work?” she said.

“People love to talk about sex work and they love to talk about the problems with it and the solutions, but nobody actually asks us. This is the first time, the very first time, that we’re being asked, ‘What do you need? What do you want?’ We’ve never had these conversations before.”

Give us a safe place to work: St. John's sex workers

Published: February 7, 2018

by David Maher, The Telegram

 

Sex workers in St. John’s are crying out for regulation.

The Long’s Hill area of town is where a lot of street-based sex work occurs, but the majority of sex work takes place within workers’ homes or at permitted adult massage parlours around the city.

Rachel, a sex worker who asked to be given a pseudonym, says work indoors is safer than outdoors because of the safety measures sex workers put in place for their own protection.

She says most often it’s the customers who cause disturbances in the Long’s Hill area, not the sex workers.

“Residents are having a problem with street-based sex work. I work indoors. If the women who are working on Long’s Hill were working indoors, that would get rid of all of the customers that are causing problems in the neighbourhood,” she said.

The problem is that those who work on the street frequently have nowhere else to turn. It has to do with mental health and addictions issues that sex workers face, along with the relatively small number of massage parlours that exist for women to work from.

“They don’t have a lot of choices. Right now, the studios that do exist have a lot of very strict rules about gentlemen coming around that aren’t clients and drug and alcohol abuse — you can’t give consent if you’re under the influence,” Rachel said.

“They’re forced into that area because there’s nowhere else to go. We’ve all found the root of the problem, but we’re not doing anything about it. We’re kicking sex workers when they’re down, and that’s not fair.”

In 2015, a moratorium was put in place by the City of St. John’s preventing the issuance of more permits for adult massage parlours. A former massage parlour on Wood Street was the focal point of area complaints, so the city put the moratorium in place as a safety measure for residents.

Workers say that because the permits are tied to addresses, rather than to the businesses, it prevents them from leaving neighbourhoods where issues arise. They want to see the moratorium lifted to give sex workers space to work and also give them the chance to leave neighbourhoods where they’re not welcome.

“Give the women a place to work that is safe. That is all we’re asking for,” Rachel said.

Alice, the manager of a massage parlour in town who also asked for a pseudonym, says part of the concern from residents and police regarding sex work is the risk of exploitation. She says sexual exploitation is a very real issue in the city, but sex work done right is not exploitation.

“One of the misconceptions is that anyone who is in this work is being exploited. That’s not true. We recognize that there is human trafficking and people are being exploited,” she said.

“I’ve had people tell me that because I’m helping to manage a massage parlour that I’m actually pimping women. That is not true. I don’t make money off of them.”

A Supreme Court decision in 2013 stated that selling sex is not illegal. What is illegal is making money off someone else’s sex work, largely due to concerns of exploitation. Because massage parlours rent space to sex workers and don’t make money off the sex work itself, they are legal.

 

Alice says working in a parlour allows her to do sex work safely.

“It’s all about having your own power and control. Security and autonomy are the main factors for me,” she said.

“I can turn away people if I don’t feel safe. If I were being exploited or trafficked, I wouldn’t be able to do that. I get to choose when I work and where I work and how I work.”

On top of that, Alice says sex workers often disrupt exploitative situations.

“We also want to prevent exploitation and trafficking. A lot of times, women in the industry, if we see someone who’s at risk or we see a situation that doesn’t feel right, we talk. It’s getting back to the right people and it’s being dealt with in the right ways,” she said.

“If they’re coming up young, if they’re saying their boyfriend recommended they work here, there’s going to be some clues there. Because we’ve connected with (the Safe Harbour Outreach Project) we have some tools to be able to deal with this.”

When things do escalate, the relationship between sex workers and the police can be a difficult line to walk. Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief of Police Joe Boland says officers have to strike a balance between meeting the needs of the community and making sure sex workers feel safe coming forward.

“It’s always going to be a sensitive relationship. We have some very dedicated, committed, sensitive, empathetic officers here that work with sex workers in our community,” Boland said. “Sometimes it’s a very difficult role for the police to play. We have residents that live in the community that want a response from the police. There’s a balance here.”

Boland says the RNC does not arrest sex workers for their work, but when other illegal activities happen, they have to act.

“The last thing we want to be doing is the enforcement side of things, especially when dealing with vulnerable people. We don’t think incarceration is the answer. The issues that exist, especially at the street level, is significant. Incarceration is not the answer,” he said.

 

“That said, we have a responsibility to keep the peace in communities. People have the right to enjoy their properties.”

One solution currently being rolled out by police isn’t specifically for sex workers, but has been welcomed by workers and advocates alike.

The police, in partnership with the Department of Health, are launching a mental health crisis unit. The unit would involve a van, with a plainclothes police officer and a health care professional. They would respond to mental health crisis calls and work to de-escalate the situation, without simply putting on handcuffs where they may not be appropriate.

Boland says the project has been something he’s worked toward since he first became a police officer, and he is hopeful it will help the entire community, as well as sex workers.

“I have 34 years of experience. I can go back over 34 years and tell you about calls where they were health calls that required a police response simply because there was no other response. We found ourselves going into people’s homes, taking people from their homes, they had to be handcuffed, they had to be searched, sitting in waiting areas. They weren’t criminals. They needed medical attention.”

 IN-DEPTH: How St. John’s is working to make Long’s Hill area safer for sex workers and residents

Published: February 6, 2018

by David Maher, Telegram​

 

For close to a decade, residents of the Long’s Hill area have been confronted by the complex issues that surround street-based sex work.

There are issues of mental health and addictions, of women being targeted by violence, issues that make sex workers some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

For years, sex workers have been crying out for help.

Now, people are listening.

In a letter received by The Telegram, one resident from Long’s Hill recounted incidents of violence, drug addiction and other problems that need to be addressed. The residents who spoke out on these issues didn’t feel comfortable being identified.

“I was woken from my sleep from the sounds of a woman being beaten. She was yelling that someone was hitting her and that this person owed her money. The noise grew louder and louder as the altercation moved from behind my house to the sidewalk in front of my house.

 

“At this point, more people became involved and my family watched from our bedroom window trying to figure out, between the loud threats and the hurling expletives, who was hurt, who was the assaulter? One of the men ripped off his shirt and threw a beer bottle against a house.”

The woman being beaten is just one of many disturbing incidents that people in the area hear on a near-daily basis.

“Weeks later, I heard loud cursing from the street. Peering out the window, I saw a man stumbling aggressively, enraged, and lunged down the street in the direction of a woman stood in her doorway. He grabbed her by the arms and threw her onto the sidewalk and punched her. Other men close by reacted equally aggressively towards the man and a group fistfight ensued. The group tumbled up the street towards my house. I shakily held the phone and had great difficulty explaining to the police operator exactly what I was seeing. I remember saying, ‘You need to get here now.’”


Another resident who is raising a young child in the area says they don’t feel safe in their own home.

“I fear for my safety as I clear those 10 to 20 feet from my car to my house. Many of those times, I’m confronted with sex workers soliciting directly in front of or in close proximity to my house. It causes one to be very uncomfortable,” said the resident.

“I realize that the women need protection, but so do we. It seems as though our rights as residents and neighbours are somehow discounted in this discussion. That, or we are seen as uninformed and ignorant to the plight of a sex worker. I identify as a feminist, and have my entire life. Being a feminist does not mean that I do not deserve a safe and respectful place to raise my family.”

One resident said they would move from the neighbourhood if they could afford to.

Robyn LeGrow is the head of the Tessier Place Neighbourhood Association and has lived in the area for about two years. She is one of more than a dozen people who meet on a monthly basis to try to find solutions.

“There have been little wins so far. We’re talking about needle boxes. It’s been a priority that one be put in our neighbourhood. Coun. Hope Jamieson is going to look at the traffic situation in the area that’s conducive to pimps and johns circling and making residents nervous,” LeGrow said.

On Monday, St. John’s city council approved new lighting fixtures and disposal containers for the neighbourhood in an effort to discourage “illicit behaviour” in the area.

“The only way to build trust is to continue to go back to that table and do your part as a committee member,” said LeGrow.

The committee is called Living in Community. The model is based on an initiative started in Vancouver in 2005.

After a crisis where sex workers were going missing and being murdered in downtown Vancouver, residents got together to try to find a way to address the needs of sex workers, of residents and of the neighbourhoods where sex workers operate.

Heather Jarvis, one of the leads of the Safe Harbour Outreach Project, spearheaded an initiative to bring the model to St. John’s.

Jarvis says work is already happening to make things better for the neighbourhood.

“Some things that we’ve discussed over time is recognizing that there are impacts on residents and community and people who have families — who sometimes are experiencing a lot of impacts themselves when the street-level sex trade is right outside their door,” said Jarvis.

“Whether that’s around addictions issues or needles — which we recognize is not inherently tied to the sex trade. There are many neighbourhoods where needles are a huge issue that has nothing to do with the sex trade.”

The group discussions, facilitated by Happy City, have taken place three times over the last three months. Sex workers are at the table, along with resident representatives, sex work advocates, City of St. John’s officials, local business owners and members of the RNC. At the last meeting, St. John’s Mayor Danny Breen and RNC Chief Joe Boland stopped by to show their support.

But the stories of outrage in communities and the abuse of sex workers are not the norm in St. John’s.

Estimates are that of all the sex work taking place in the city, only 20 per cent takes place on the street. The vast majority takes place in homes or in massage parlours — legally, since the Supreme Court overturned all restrictions on sex work in 2013 — with safety assured for workers and their clients.

This is not a story of good people and bad people. This is the story of voices finally being heard, with hopes of change for the better.

“Alice,” who asked to be given a pseudonym, is a sex worker in the city. She’s a young woman. She’s one of the owners of a local massage parlour. She pays her taxes. She abides by the law.

“In 10 years, I would say I’ve had less than 10 really negative encounters — that’s not bad,” she said.

“A lot of the times, the calls and complaints about sex work happening — especially in the focal area — it’s not a sex work issue. It’s a mental health and addictions issue. It’s not about the work, it’s that the individuals also have these issues.”

In Part 2 of this series Thursday, Alice will show how the sex trade can work in communities.

The goal is to make sure people can work together and live together peacefully. It will be a long road, but there is hope that this new approach can work.

Not turning blind eye to crime in Long's Hill area of St. John's, RNC says

Published: September 15, 2017

by Geoff Bartlett, CBC News

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary acknowledges a neighbourhood in downtown St. John's has become a hotspot for criminal activity, but says the force has not been neglecting the area.

Residents of the Tessier Place, Long's Hill, Cabot Place, Livingstone Street and Carter's Hill areas have been complaining for years that the neighbourhood regularly hosts sex work, drug use and violent incidents.

Acting RNC inspector Joe Gullage said there's definitely been an increase in calls from the area, but he said the RNC has stepped up patrols accordingly.

"We have responded to 100 per cent of these calls," he told the St. John's Morning Show. "We will not turn a blind eye to any criminal activity we see. When we get a call, depending on where the unit is in that area, we respond as quickly as possible."

Gullage said when officers respond to calls, their top priority is protection of residents and women in the area. He understands that people are getting fed up with seeing crime near their homes, and admits that there has been a spike in traffic and drug-related activity there.

From Jan. 1 to Aug. 28 of this year, the RNC responded to 120 complaints in the neighbourhood, ranging from disorderly conduct to suspicious vehicles, drug use, sex trade workers and more.

While officers will continue to respond whenever a resident makes a call, Gullage reccomends people give their name when they report a crime, instead of calling anonymously, so police can get a better picture of what's happening.

Gullage said the RNC is also looking at a more long-term solution through an initiative called Living in the Community.

He said it's a model that's been adopted in other parts of the country and brings in various groups like City of St. John's, Eastern Health, Safe Harbour Outreach Project and more, to work out a plan so everyone can feel safe. 

Part of that will involve helping people with drug problems and those who want to get out of working in the sex industry.

"If there's a need that these people want to exit the sex trade industry, we have an exit strategy there to give them the supports necessary to do that," he said. "We believe that this is a community problem, and it takes all parts of the community to resolve this issue."

 SHOP & Happy City Collaborate To Make St. John’s The First Canadian City To Adopt Vancouver’s Living In Community Model

Published: June 16, 2017

by TheOvercast​

 

Local sex work advocacy organization, Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) collaborated with Happy City St. John’s to bring representatives of the Vancouver-based organization Living in Community to town to discuss community safety and collaboration.

The three-day initiative included a series of meetings with community stakeholders as well as a public information session. The aim was to discuss applying Living in Community’s unique model for making communities where sex work happens safer for everyone to St. John’s.

“What we’ve seen is the displacement of sex workers from neighbourhood to neighbourhood and it just becomes some other neighbourhood’s problem. It doesn’t address any of the actual issues, it doesn’t increase safety, it doesn’t decrease the stigma that sex workers are facing and neighbourhoods might be facing,” Heather Jarvis, SHOP’s Program Coordinator said.

Living in Community launched in 2003 in response to the tragic death and disappearance of a large number of sex workers in Vancouver’s downtown eastside. The organization created a steering committee comprised of; residents, police, community organizers, sex workers, businesses, and government.

The committee fostered balanced discussions about people’s concerns and hopes for their neighbourhoods and eventually produced an action plan for creating a safer, healthier community.

“These are complicated issues that matter and there are no overnight solutions, but one of the incredible things that Living in Community has been able to do is develop relationships between people with very different lived experiences, increasing trust and understanding,” said Jarvis.

Jarvis says Living in Community has built on those relationships to find creative solutions for moving forward on issues like policy change, adapting service provision, and understanding the role of law enforcement.

“We need to look at what Living in Community has done, their successes, and some of their mistakes and lessons learned. We need to make sure we are applying it to our context. We need to make sure it fits our city in terms of language, different municipal bylaws, different policing structures, and local sex worker needs,” Jarvis said.

Using Living in Community’s model, SHOP and Happy City have been organizing closed meetings with community stakeholders in areas where sex work happens in St. John’s for the past year. They spoke to residents who were sex working and those who weren’t, law enforcement, and representatives of Thrive’s Street Reach program, among others.

Jarvis believes that having a smaller population has some advantages when it comes to applying Living in Community’s model. Being a smaller city means more access to government officials, and makes it easier to connect across organizations and communities. Jarvis says Living in Community were impressed by how far St. John’s has already come in terms of creating relationships and starting a dialogue.

“We are feeling very tired from all the work that’s gone into this, but also hopeful because of the enthusiasm we’ve heard from all the people we’ve met with who want to do something and move forward. We’re very hopeful that this model can come to our city, in our own way, as the first city outside of Vancouver in all of Canada to apply it,” Jarvis said about wrapping up the three-day initiative.

 S.H.O.P. & Happy City St. John's to Host City-Wide Meetings with Innovative Vancouver-Based Organization on Community Safety and Collaboration

Published: June 13, 2017

For Immediate Release

by St. John's Status of Women Council

 

Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.) and Happy City St John’s are hosting the Living in Community initiative that works to find solutions to the impact of sex work and youth sexual exploitation on communities and to reduce the harms and isolation that sex workers experience. Culminating in a year-long pilot project led by S.H.O.P., several sessions with community groups, government, law enforcement, sex workers and residents will work towards applying the successful Vancouver model for safer communities to St. John’s.

S.H.O.P. and Happy City are also hosting a public information session this evening, which will be an opportunity to hear in detail about Living in Community’s innovative policy work in Vancouver, British Columbia in the aftermath of the tragedy of missing and murdered sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown East side. Living in Community will outline its experience addressing sex work-related policy and best practices working with residents, neighbourhood groups, business associations, law enforcement, government, health, non-profit organizations, and sex workers to make communities safer for all.

This session will conclude with a Q & A with S.H.O.P. and Living in Community on the ways to adapt lessons and best practices to the St. John’s context, to effectively respond to communities in St. John’s where sex work happens. The session will be at the Crypt (basement) of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, at 16 Church Hill. The information session is free and physically accessible.

Long's Hill wants solutions to neighbourhood sex trade, illegal activity

Published: July 25, 2016

by Daniel MacEachern, CBC News

 

In the wake of a daylight assault on Long's Hill, a St. John's advocacy group is looking for solutions.

Jonathan Galgay, the St. John's city councillor whose ward includes Long's Hill, said the city frequently gets complaints about harassment in the area, which is frequented by sex workers.

"[Residents are] complaining that residents are actually being approached by those men who are frequenting the area," Galgay told CBC on Monday.

"Oftentimes they're approaching them, they're confused, they're not sure if they're involved in the sex trade or if they're residents. They're trying to sell drugs, they're approaching people."

The councillor said he was horrified to hear about last week's assault — but not surprised.

"I've had calls from people who live in the neighbourhood who say that they've been approached before, and this is not the first time that people have been approached or they have been accosted by individuals in this neighbourhood."

Galgay said the city needs to find a way to ensure the safety of both women in the sex trade and residents being approached by people buying sex or drugs.

He said city staff have removed public benches in the area to try to discourage loitering, and he's approached owners of vacant buildings to ask them to increase the amount of lighting they use.

"The City of St. John's is very limited in terms of what they can do to step in to a situation like this," said Galgay. "It's also based on what powers you have as a municipality or a province."

One possibility, said the councillor, is moving the sex trade to a safer location, adding Long's Hill is somewhat dark and secluded from heavy traffic.

"We need to look at ways in which there can be some type of transition to a more — I wouldn't necessarily say a commercial district — but somewhere where it's somewhat of a safer environment."

Galgay said the RNC has an important role in preventing trouble in the area, and a meeting later this week aims to bring together everyone involved. The Safe Harbour Outreach Project is hosting a meeting Thursday and has invited residents as well as representatives from the police and from city council.

Galgay said SHOP is also bringing in a representative from a Vancouver neighbourhood initiative called "Living in Community" to discuss ways to for all groups involved to make the area safer.

"It's a balancing act," he said.

"I would love to be able to go in and safely make some changes in the neighbourhood, but we just don't have the authority to do that, and that's why we have to rely on SHOP to provide us with the advice and we need to work with the RNC, and that's exactly what we're doing,"

Copyright 2019 Living in Community, St. John's, NL

Email: livingincommunity@happycity.ca