As the Pickton trial continues in B.C. Calgary prostitutes face daily harassment

It was a cloudy day in late August when Lynn Allwright left the Mustard Seed and never returned. She’d recently moved into transitional housing at the agency and was trying to turn her life around after years of living on the streets and working in the sex trade. The following day she was found murdered in a tent near the Elbow River. Sylvia Drolet was going to university and working part-time as an escort when a passerby found her stabbed to death in her minivan late at night on November 29 2004. After a police investigation one of the sex trade worker’s clients confessed to murdering her. As the trial of Robert Pickton who is accused of murdering 26 Vancouver prostitutes continues in B.C. those who work with Calgary’s sex trade workers say that violence is a daily reality and that services assisting sex trade workers need to be improved. “If someone is involved in the sex trade they may not have a safe home” says Capri Rasmussen who helps oversee the new Shift program at AIDS Calgary one of the few programs in the city available to all sex trade workers. “Being in the sex trade puts workers in a position where some people feel they can victimize them.” In addition to the killings of prostitutes in Vancouver Edmonton has grappled with its own rash of murders including the disappearance last month of Leanne Benwell. “The sex trade is mobile. Unsafe conditions anywhere are a threat to people everywhere” says Rasmussen. “It adds to that culture of violence.” San Patten a research consultant who wrote a report on Calgary’s sex trade last April says that violence was a frequent concern for the workers she interviewed. “They talk about the risks of getting into cars; you have to be aware of how to be safe” she says. Violence and harassment from members of the public is also a problem. “One girl showed me a scar over her eye caused by a beer bottle thrown at her out of a car” says Patten. “They take a lot of shit.” Sex trade workers indicated they needed services specifically targeted at prostitution she says because they often feel stigmatized when trying to get help. “A lot of the girls also don’t feel safe calling the police” she says. “Some of the girls talk about harassment and violence from the police.” Last week Calgary police conducted a sting that resulted in charges against 11 alleged sex trade workers. Cops try to get prostitutes’ information so they can track them if anything happens to them says Detective Red Wymer who works with the Calgary Police Service’s vice unit. “We liaise with the girls but we’re caught between that and enforcing the law” he says. “There’s a lot of different pressures on the stroll.” When workers report encounters with violent johns police investigate as with any assault. Luckily says Wymer murders of sex trade workers haven’t been as prevalent here as in other cities. “We’ve had our share but nothing on the volume of Edmonton or Vancouver.”