Local sex worker advocates are fuming about what they call a gross abuse of power by a Hamilton police officer who used his position to engage in sexual activity with the very people he was supposed to help.

On Monday, Sgt. Derek Mellor pleaded guilty to nine Police Services Act charges after engaging in sexual acts and sending lewd messages as well as photos and videos of his penis to sex workers and colleagues.

Mellor is a 14-year veteran of the service who was once the lead of Hamilton Police’s anti-human trafficking initiative dubbed “Project Rescue.” But rescuing was the last thing he was doing, says Lenore Lukasik-Foss, the director at the Hamilton and area Sexual Assault Centre.

“It’s just so shocking and so, so concerning,” Lukasik-Foss told CBC Hamilton. “This is not okay. It is a complete abuse of power.”

As part of an agreed statement of acts, Mellor admitted to undertaking a sexual relationship with the mother of a woman whose human trafficking case he was working on. He admitted to engaging in sexual activity with her on the side of a rural road, sending her pictures of his penis and a three-second video of him masturbating.

'These are extremely vulnerable folks. People who are trafficked are often afraid to come forward.' - Lenore Lukasik-Foss, Director,Hamilton and area Sexual Assault Centre.

He also pleaded guilty to sending sexual photos and texts to two women who worked with the human trafficking volunteer organization “Walk With Me,” and pursuing sexual relationships with two sex workers.

Mellor also pleaded guilty Monday afternoon to having sex with woman who was a sex worker and a potential witness in a human trafficking case.

Lukasik-Foss says she was baffled that this kind of behavior could happen. “These are extremely vulnerable folks,” she said. “People who are trafficked are often afraid to come forward.”

“And now, how many of these investigations have been jeopardized because of this?”

The gap between police and sex workers

In two of the incidents discussed during Monday’s hearing, sex workers informed Det. Const. David Hartless — who also worked on Project Rescue — about Mellor’s advances, which they felt were inappropriate.

Hartless spoke with Mellor about it, and he stopped, according to hearing documents. Lukasik-Foss says she can’t understand why something wasn’t done as soon as Hartless was made aware of the situation.

It's not clear if Hartless advised anyone else of Mellor's actions. Questions to Hamilton police about Hartless and what happened after he learned of the allegations were not immediately returned.

This kind of behavior is just another example of the tenuous and tumultuous relationship between sex workers and police, says Mz. Scream, a former dominatrix and current university student in sexuality studies who sits on the board of directors at Big Susie's, a Hamilton-based sex worker support and advocacy group. Both she and Lukasik-Foss agreed that the relationship between the two groups has historically been rocky — and will likely stay that way if incidents like this are the norm.

Scream asked the CBC to use her professional pseudonym instead of her real name.

“I don’t think this is the first time something like this has happened – and I don’t think it will be the last,” she said. “Police have a power dynamic over the rest of the public that they can use and abuse.”

“Sex workers are used to it. We’re stigmatized in our jobs and discriminated in the community.”

Mellor hopes to keep his job

Scream says this case will likely just widen the gap between sex workers and police in Hamilton. “Anytime another situation like this is brought to the forefront, it’s just going to prevent any sex worker coming forward to police. It facilitates violence towards sex workers.”

“The police just don’t look very good right now.”

Project Rescue was a much-vaunted pilot project funded by the provincial government to target human trafficking in Hamilton. From Sept. 11, 2011 to Dec. 12, 2012, Mellor was the project's lead. He was suspended from the Hamilton Police Service with pay on Dec. 13, 2012.

Provincial funding for the unit was not renewed in 2013.

Two other charges that had been laid against Mellor for corrupt practices and breach of duty were withdrawn Monday.

His hearing resumes at 10 a.m. on April 24 for sentencing. Mellor is "regretful" and hopes to keep his job, says his attorney, Gary Clewley.

"He plans to reject the submission that I expect will come from the prosecution that he be dismissed," Clewley told CBC Hamilton.

But there is no way a cop who has acted this way should be able to keep his job, Scream says.

“There are sex workers out there trying to make ends meet, and he’s taking advantage of them.”