St. John’s City Hall is partnering with Safe Harbourage Outreach Program (SHOP), a local organization that supports sex workers, to host a unique event in honour of International Sex Workers Rights Day on March 3rd, 2017.

“It is a significant statement that our City Hall, the official location and symbol for our city’s governance, recognizes that sex workers are a part of our community and that they are demanding their human rights be upheld”said Heather Jarvis, Program Coordinatorat SHOP.

Beginning on February 27th, an exhibit titled Sex Workers Speak Out will be on display in the Great Hall at City Hall. The exhibit’s closing reception will happen on International Sex Workers Rights Day, both the closing reception and the exhibit are physically accessible, free, and open to the public.

The exhibit features quotes by sex workers from all over Canada and highlights the voices of sex workers from St. John’s. The quotes give first hand accounts of the negative impact laws around prostitution in Canada have on the day-to-day life of sex workers in our country.

“In the display there are a wide variety of people who are speaking as sex workers about the impact of the laws; those who are indigenous, those who are two-spirit, trans women, people with many years experience, people who are new to the industry, people who work at the street level and people who work independently and more safely indoors” Jarvis said.

Jarvis hopes that by including messages from a diverse array of people, the exhibit will demonstrate that Canada’s laws around prostitution are harmful to everyone doing sex work in the country.

SHOP, along with many other sex worker advocacy groups across the country, believe that Canada should repeal all laws around prostitution, for fear that those laws push the industry underground.

“We already have laws that criminalize sexual assault, physical violence, confinement, kidnapping, sexual exploitation, trafficking, sexual abuse of minors, age of consent laws; we have laws on the books that are vital to keeping people safe. So laws that criminalize any aspect of sex work continue to push it underground.” Jarvis said.

Jarvis explained that laws around prostitution in Canada make it difficult for sex workers to work safely. The laws increase stigma around the industry, making it hard for sex workers to access basic human rights like health care, housing, and the ability to access services, including police services.

The laws are also dangerous because they force sex workers to work separately, limiting their supports. Jarvis argues that sex workers are noticing that current laws are making their client base afraid continue seeing sex workers; these are the safe and reliable customers that many sex workers depend on.

The Sex Workers Speak Out exhibit is important and timely as SHOP hasn’t yet secured core funding for 2017, funding it needs to continue offering services accessed by over 150 sex workers in and around St. John’s.

One example of the many services SHOP provides is weekly drop-in hours offered at their confidential downtown space, where sex workers can pick up safer sex supplies, share information about assaults, or get direct support and referrals from staff or volunteers.

In addition to offering well-used services like the drop-in, SHOP needs core funding to continue educating the public about how stigma impacts sex workers in our city. This powerful International Sex Workers Rights Day exhibit demonstrates how crucial it is that SHOP be able to continue that work.

Find more information about SHOP, click here: