According to Statistics Canada, the percentage of offenses reported to the police dropped from about 12% in 2009 to 5% in 2014. Less than 1% of sexual assaults experienced by women lead to an offender being convicted. In 2014, 43% of women have been sexually harassed in their workplace. Sexual assault is the only violent crime in Canada that is not declining.
Now imagine how those numbers differ for women working in the sex industry.
Roya Rayhani is a friend of late Josie Glenn and also the organizer for Josie’s march. Josie Glenn was found dead in October, a victim of sexual violence. Her body was found several days after she was reported missing. Rayhani describes Josie as a “very caring, very affectionate” person.
Josie Glenn described as “very positive”
“She loved people. She was always very positive. She [would] always helps lift your spirits when you’re not having a good day. Just a lovely, caring person who loved singing. Loved animals very much. Loved her friends. Enjoyed just helping people. She loved her sister and family very much. Loved her nieces. And that’s how I know Josie,” says Rayhani.
Kelsey Adams works at Anova, and says the stigma surrounding sex work and sex workers follow society’s moralistic views about what women can and cannot do with their bodies and sexuality.
“When women or any individuals choses to say, ‘this is how I’m going to make my living’ or ‘this is how I’m going to work’, society has a lot of really negative traditional views about what’s right and what’s wrong. [Often], that leads to incredibly harmful and violent policies, laws, and cultural beliefs that can affect the safety and lives of these workers,” says Adams.
Legislation’s harmful effects
Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, makes the act of selling sex legal, but criminalizes the buying of sex. Adams says this bill, which is meant to protect those in the sex industry, has the opposite effect.
“Bill C-36 affects workers because when we put so many provisions on how they are able to make their living and make their work. It really prevents safety so when we criminalize the buying of it. It’s still putting sex workers at risk because then they have to go underground. They’re not able to have conversations beforehand to say, ‘this is what I’m willing to do’ and ‘this is what we’re going to do together’, so it has to be underground,” says Adams.
When the boundaries cannot be communicated, the risk of danger and violence heightens drastically. Anova supports decriminalization and the belief that sex workers have a right to choose a free and safe work, and how they choose to make their living.
Contrasting experience with police
“We think when survivors do come forward and do report to police or get involved in the criminal justice system, they do often have to experience a lot of question and interrogation. [We] see that comes through victim blaming, like ‘why ‘were you drinking?’, ‘why were you wearing that?’, ‘why were you in that part of town?’, and that often is intensified when that woman is a sex worker. The belief that if you are a sex worker, you are ‘asking for it’. Which we know, is not true,” says Adams.
“If we don’t change the way we think or the way our police system is treating these situations… [Unfortunately] we will lose another woman like Josie Glenn. It will not be the first or last. It will happen again because there will always be predators. It just depends how strong our justice system is to hold these individuals accountable. It will happen again,” says Rayhani.
Everybody deserves to have safe work, and no one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. The fight for women’s rights and the fight against the stigma of sex workers will continue to be battled until there is justice.
Those who have experienced sexual violence have support and resources in the community that are available and free to access, such as Anova, the London Abused Women’s Center, counsellors, and many more.