Like it or not, the sex trade exists in every capital city right across the world. Including ours.

Whether you frown on it, avail of it, or anything in between, how we treat each other is a reflection of our society. And in St. John’s, we’re not treating our sex workers with compassion and decency.

This is why NDP Critic for the Status of Women, Gerry Rogers, has been begging government to reconsider an application for funding that would allow the Safe Harbour Outreach Program (SHOP) to continue its important work. SHOP is the province’s only support system for sex workers; it protects these vulnerable women, and helps them in many ways, such as  connecting them with non-judgmental supportive services, safety training, career exit planning, or referrals to legal help.

In Gerry’s own words, “SHOP often provides life saving work to some of our most vulnerable women, many of whom are young and some of whom are involved in sex work for survival. It is a comprehensive program … that assists women with health issues, safety measures, and advocacy. They also help women find education, employment opportunities, and housing for those who want to move out of sex work.”

Both SHOP and the St. John’s Status of Women have submitted applications for this funding, to different Status of Women Ministers, including the premier himself. And haven’t heard back. They haven’t received this funding, despite rumours there was a million bucks left in a pot that could’ve been used for this. While some of us will always choose to ignore there is a sex industry in St. John’s, the majority of us should agree we ought to be doing all we can to keep it above board, safe, and respectable. The situation here is exasperated by the fact we have city councillors striving to shut down safe and respectable “adult parlours,” and a provincial government not helping the women that councillors or neighbours want to cast into the streets.

But that’s a whole other can of worms to open. Yes, there are houses in St. John’s were sexy things happen … and you should want these things to be happening inside – that way, the sex industry will remain safely above ground, not shadily underground.

Not funding such solid programs as SHOP is a declaration that we don’t consider “certain people” worthy of safety and concern and decency. The sex trade is real, it’s going to happen here, so it’s best we relegate it to legit, in-house businesses, and it’s ideal to fund well-intentioned, very necessary programs like SHOP. That way this “shady industry” won’t descend to the shadiest depths it can when we turn a blind eye and cold shoulder towards it. We Newfoundlanders do, after all, like to claim we’re the friendliest, kindest folks in the country. Our government’s silence about funding SHOP begs to differ. Saying NO is fine, if harsh, but not saying anything implies it’s not even worth discussing.