Danger rising for sex trade workers in Hamilton

Experts say the city could be getting more dangerous for street sex trade workers.

Police still searching for more victims

Hamilton police are still searching for a man wanted in connection with an assault on a sex worker last Sunday. (Sheryl Nadler)

Is street level sex trade work becoming more dangerous in Hamilton?

"Assault is always a risk for street level workers," said Lenore Lukasik-Foss, the Director of Hamilton's Sexual Assault Centre.

"We're hearing that there's something going on, for sure."

That "something" stems from an attack on a sex worker in Hamilton on Sunday. It happened in an abandoned parking lot on Victoria Avenue North near Burlington Street East.

After that attack, police issued a statement saying they were looking for more victims.

"We know there are other sex workers who are victims who have yet to come forward that were assaulted in the same area," said Sgt. Terri-Lynn Collings.

Collings wouldn't say if police believe the attacks are by the same person.

Lukasik-Foss thinks the issue is bigger than that.

"This isn't the first incidence by any stretch. My hunch is that there have been other reports with other descriptions, so there's probably more than one person," she said.

"We have an issue in this area with women that do street level sex work," Lukasik-Foss said. "It's not the first time that we've heard reports like this."

She said communicating for the purpose of selling sex is illegal and that compounds the danger for sex workers.

"Most street-level sex workers are really afraid to go to the police, because they have been arrested or are afraid of being arrested," she said.

Deb Nanson, a former sex trade worker, echoed that sentiment.

"I believe because of the way laws are, street level sex workers are going to become more vulnerable," she said.

Nanson runs a street outreach team for sex workers in Hamilton. Every week her team hands out food and other necessities for those who need it.

She said because sex work is transient, it's difficult to keep tabs on who might be working where.

Some sex trade workers travel from Hamilton to Niagara to Toronto with their pimps or johns, so it can be hard to know where someone is.

"You could go missing, and no one would notice," she said.

Nanson says she expects violence against street level sex workers to rise more if legal brothels open in Ontario.

She says dangerous men with inclinations towards rough sex or beating a woman will be more inclined to seek out street level workers who would come cheaper, and often not have anyone protecting them.

"It's going to get progressively worse."

The suspect from Sunday's assault is described as 35 to 40, white, about 6 feet tall and weighs 225 pounds.

He has a large muscular build, shaved head, and is clean-shaven and well kept.

His vehicle is described as a silver four-door older model car with dark tinted windows, clean interior and exterior with a child seat in the rear.

Anyone with information is asked to call Det. Jason Howard at 905-540-5544 or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.