Sex workers and supporters gathered across the world Dec 17, and they called for an end to violence against sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work.
In Ottawa, dozens of people marched through the streets to mark the fifth annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. They carried red umbrellas and chanted ‘Sex work is work, no to violence!’ They stopped at the Canadian Human Rights Monument to remember victims of violence and to call for changes to law enforcement.
“Endless research clearly states that law enforcement will not stop prostitution,” said Jina Rodas-Wright of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa. “It only forces sex workers into dangerous working conditions that has led to an increase in violence against sex workers.”
Chris Bruckert, a University of Ottawa criminology professor and former sex worker, echoed Rodas-Wright’s concerns. “Police patrol but do not protect sex workers,” she said.
Bruckert said that police practices force sex workers into uninhabited industrial zones, prevent sex workers from working in pairs, and pressure sex workers to get into cars quickly without assessing clients.
She added that police are not building bridges with sex workers or taking violence against them seriously.
“Here, the imperative to serve and protect is not extended to the marginalized, the disenfranchised — the sex workers,” she said.
The day before the protest, Ottawa Police Services arrested 65 people for street-level crimes, including prostitution. It was the largest sweep of its kind in recent months.
Nicholas Little of the AIDS Committee of Ottawa read from a recent study that examined the most pressing concerns of local sex workers.
“It’s time to decriminalize sex work,” he said. He also spoke about the need for freedom from police injustice, affordable housing and a centre run by and for sex workers.
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