Protest at Kitchener City Hall to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

By Phi Doan

Tuesday marks International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers with protesters set to stage a 'die-in' at Kitchener City Hall this afternoon.

Every December 17, sex workers and advocates come together—wearing red and carrying a red umbrella—to bring attention to the dangers in their line of work, and to call for greater justice.

Sex Worker's Action Network (SWAN) have been organizing the local 'die-in' for the past few years, where protesters lie on the ground to represent all the lives lost in the sex trade.

Lane is facilitator with SWAN who provides a local drop-in program. Every Thursday, sex workers can come and access resources and community without “judgement, policing, or surveillance.” 

“So, when we're talking about sex workers' rights; we're talking about labour rights.”

“Sex workers have a lot of expertise, experience and in-depth knowledge of the impact of the socio-economic and legal barriers that we face, and the services and support that we need to reduce the vulnerabilities and enhance the quality of life for people in our community,” Lane says. “But sex workers are all too often ignored. We're treated as victims and not listened to.”

She speaks from her own experience as a local sex worker for the past five years. As a queer woman, she experienced disability, homelessness, and addiction in her line of work.

“The violence that sex workers face isn't inherent to the work itself. It's inherent to social stigma and criminalization that workers face. So, we're trying to break down those barriers.”

According to Lane, it's society and its institution's duty ” to insure the safety and health of all citizens equally” and that it must change in order for sex workers to have “safe-living and working conditions” 

Lane explains the current laws as they are make it difficult for sex workers to properly screen their clients, access the resources they need, and even turn to the police for help. Those are some of the reasons there's an increase risk of violence.

“Criminalization reinforces the stigma of sex work; and stigmatization breeds isolation and marginalization; which in turn increases vulnerability to violence, exploitation, and abuse,” she says. 

Lane points to sex workers being pushed to the margins of society, where they are invisible to society and are at an increase risk of violence, including “being forced to engage in unprotected sex.”

“Every year we come together to remember those who we lost, and to renew our commitment to our ongoing struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights for all sex workers.”

The event is set for 3 p.m. at the Cafe Pyrus in downtown Kitchener. Afterwards they march down to Kitchener City Hall around 4 p.m. for the 'die-in'. Participants are asked to wear red and/or bring a red umbrella in solidarity with sex workers.

More information on the event can be found here.

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