The Nova Scotia Human Trafficking Awareness Network held a symposium Monday to increase awareness about human trafficking in Halifax. Members of the network, including the RCMP, Halifax Regional Police, the Canada Border Services Agency and the Canadian Red Cross, met in hopes of developing more streamlined guidelines to ensure the health and safety of human trafficking victims.
I’d like to tell you what happened at Monday’s panel discussion, but could only have done so if RCMP communications officials looked over my article first, a condition I refused to meet. After the day-long event, where I self-identified at as a reporter wearing a Coast badge, RCMP told me the event was closed to media.
I caught up with Rene Ross, an audience member at the event, afterward. Ross, the executive director of a local non-profit organization working for the rights and safety of sex workers, worries that key voices were not heard at Monday’s event. She says her organization, Stepping Stone, was never invited to join the Nova Scotia Human Trafficking Awareness Network. “It makes no sense to us that sex workers are not being included in debates about policies and decisions that affect them,” she says.
Ross expresses concern that RCMP and others are painting a one-sided picture about sex work. “It’s not a balanced picture of what’s going on and it’s turning into sensationalistic rhetoric that is being used against sex workers,” she says. While some people are forced into sex work against their will, Ross feels it’s important to recognize that others choose to be sex workers. “What’s really happening in the sex trade is the global migration of women in the sex trade in search of better paid work,” says Ross. She worries criminalizing sex work pushes sex workers further underground, increasing their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation.