Who is to blame for missing women?
Jennifer Allan once worked the streets of cities like Calgary and Vancouver, now, through her outreach efforts to help sex workers called Jen’s Kitchen, Allan has set out on a cross-Canada trip to denounce what she believes is an epidemic of violence against survival sex workers.
She was beaten, sexually abused and harassed. Once, she even shared the streets in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside with women who might have turned out to be victims of Robert Pickton.
“When I was in Vancouver, I feared the serial killer. But in a way, to an extent, when you’re young and naive, you don’t think it’ll happen to you,” she said. “I think that, as sex industry worker, we tell ourselves that if we put all these safety mechanisms in place, it can’t happen. Truth is, it’ll happen no matter what.”
Now, she gathers numbers on missing women throughout Canada to put together a report with Kwantlen University which will be filed to the United Nations.
Allan strongly believes police efforts throughout Canada have forced women to more dangerous and hidden parts of their cities, making them easy targets for predators like Robert Pickton.
“Vancouver police are totally to blame for the missing women,” said Allan. “Because of [the women’s] social status, race, economics, they were seen as disposable. I can guarantee that if three blonde-haired-blue-eyed secretaries had disappeared, police would have been all over it. All they’re doing is sending a message to predators.”
Sex work supporters in Halifax have argued against similar treatment.
Not unlike what Tracy, a former sex worker, said in a prior interview, the boundaries placed on women caught engaging in acts of prostitution affect their safety and often impacts their lifestyle as a whole.
Allan discussed these issues with Halifax Regional Police. She says the sergeant only wanted to talk to her by phone, even if she was at the station.
“[In Halifax,] police only want to befriend the sex workers so they can get information from them on other cases,” she said. “Not because police want to protect the sex workers, but so sex workers can help police do their job better.”
When Allan confronted the sergeant about the possible risks affiliated with gathering information from sex workers, she was told she watched “too much T.V.”
Staff Sgt. James Butler, from the Halifax Regional Police, whom did not speak with Allan, sys HRP’s primary mandate is public safety.
While boundaries have historically been used in attempts to maintain public safety, staff Sgt. Butler thinks changes may be in the works.
“I would suggest that while there’s a desire to address prostitution-related issues with non-traditional ways,” he said. “I’m in no position to talk about Vancouver’s tactics, but I think it’s a short term way for public safety. It’s not the way to go long term. I think there’s a shift away from boundaries.”
Staff Sgt. Butler could not comment on what these non-traditional measures could be, though he does believe that a strong, long-term collaboration with public and private institutions would lead to better tactics.