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LETTER: Stories of solidarity — supporting sex worker rights in St. John’s

Sex workers in a show of solidarity in St. John’s. Photo contributed by SHOP
Sex workers in a show of solidarity in St. John’s. — Photo contributed by SHOP

Every year, sex workers and advocates around the world celebrate March 3rd as International Sex Worker Rights Day. This year, the Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) in St. John’s asked allies across our community to share why sex workers’ rights are important to them. Here is what they had to say.

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“In my role, it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re advocating for change here, starting from the inside and working our way out. I show up for sex workers every day by partnering with them and those who support them, rather than assuming I might know what’s best for them. We often interfere with sex workers’ rights by making assumptions about their needs in the name of helping them, which can be further marginalizing. My coworkers and I at The Gathering Place stand in solidarity with sex workers.” — Becky Fleming, manager of clinical supports at The Gathering Place

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“Sex workers are real people with actual health-related conditions, and nurses are likely the first person they intersect with in health-care institutions. Nurses have ethical and professional responsibilities to provide humanized and respectful patient care within a safe non-judgmental environment. There are many stereotypes and stigma and nurses must be aware of stereotypes as they apply to sex workers, understand where they come from, and how to start to bring about change, especially within health care. This requires first looking at ourselves, and asking: what is my belief system regarding sex work, sex workers and sex workers rights? And how am I contributing to the status quo in perpetuating sex work and sex worker stereotypes?” — Paula Kelly, registered nurse, professor of nursing studies, Memorial University

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“People often avoid engaging in dialogue about what sex work really means, how different it can look for everyone, and just how common it really is. It’s your friends, it’s your families, it’s our neighbours, our community. It’s all around us, and at the end of the day every sex worker deserves the same civil and human rights as anyone else. — Robin and Pepper, owners of local business PRUDE

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“We need to stop using old problematic images that were never OK, in all newsrooms. I think it’s my responsibility, as a journalist, to tell real stories and go the extra mile, especially when it comes to marginalized groups like sex workers. I also commit to work that creates space for sex workers and their stories in a way that is safe for them. I think now, more than ever, the need for this kind of journalism is critical – real people, real stories.” — Leila Beaudoin, journalist

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“I am a priest and pastor of the Anglican Church of Canada. I am an ally, friend of sex workers and their support agencies. For me, all creation is holy, and all humanity is sacred. I try to model my life after Jesus, who engaged in dialogue with all individuals, who provided them dignity and care in all his interactions, and I believe sex workers are holy, caring persons. Sex workers are fearless, courageous people who are upheld in scripture and upheld by Jesus.” — David Burrows, Archdeacon, Avalon Anglican Diocese of Eastern NL

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“We cannot ignore the precarious situations of sex workers who are Black, Indigenous, queer and trans. As different justice movement groups have made clear, these sex workers’ rights and needs for intersectional social justice cannot be divorced from the provision of social care aimed at improving their health and social well-being and addressing their barriers and injustices in organizations and society as a priority.” — Sulaimon Giwa, professor of social work, MUN

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“Sex workers’ rights are human rights. Trans people who do sex work face overlapping stigma and discrimination, but trans sex workers, especially trans women of colour, have been at the forefront of the struggle for human rights and social justice throughout history. As an organization that supports trans people and their loved ones, we are grateful for the incredible work that SHOP does, and their commitment to providing welcoming and inclusive services and supports for trans folx who do sex work.” — Julie Temple, Trans Support NL

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The Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) is Newfoundland and Labrador’s only sex worker advocacy program. SHOP’s mandate is to advocate for the human rights of sex workers across our city and province, both on an individual and collective level. This unique program was developed in partnership with cisgender and transgender women who engage in sex work, and everything they do is informed by the real experts – sex workers themselves.

For more information, visit our website at sjwomenscentre.ca/programs/SHOP

Quotes collected by Heather Jarvis

SHOP program co-ordinator

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