A sex-trade survivor’s story in a leaked report the police and a senior provincial cabinet minister called a threat to public safety when CBC News reported on it last week was also used in a video the government sent to be viewed by schoolchildren across the province earlier this year.
In a hastily-assembled media availability Oct. 22, Charlene Johnson, the minister responsible for the Women’s Policy Office, charged that CBC News was “irresponsible” to report on government-commissioned research into sexual exploitation in the province.
“The risk is already elevated because CBC has put this out there,” Johnson said at the time. “We don’t want to elevate it any further.”
But the story of one former sex-trade worker in the leaked report was also included on a DVD the provincial government sent to 180 junior highs and high schools earlier this year.
It’s not clear why the same story shared in a report whose very existence constituted a threat to public safety was also included in an educational video sent to be viewed by thousands of teenage students across the province.
Johnson declined comment, steering inquiries back to the police.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Deputy Chief Bill Janes was also not available for an interview, but e-mailed a statement noting that the DVD was “educational” and different from the research report.
Last week, Janes said the contents of the leaked report put sex-trade workers at risk.
“I will say that every question I answer puts more information into the public domain, which provides more information to those who could potentially do harm to others,” Janes told reporters.
Janes said referencing the fact that researchers interviewed people in the sex trade three years ago for a study on exploitation is harmful to the public.
“We looked at this very carefully,” Janes said. “We’re a very open organization, the RNC, in terms of providing information out to the public, but we have to weigh that against public safety.”
The video was made in 2010, and was purchased by the Department of Education and sent to schools this January.
The DVD includes interviews with a member of the RNC discussing how prevalent sexual exploitation can be in the province.
It is interspersed with a number of personal stories, read by actors, of those who have suffered from sexual exploitation.
The story of ‘Amanda’
“Amanda” – not her real name – shared her story for the report, and the video.
As a teenager, Amanda was sexually exploited, and forced to prostitute herself on the street.
She says the authors of the report were very careful about ensuring the anonymity of participants such as her.
“The fact that I can look at the report and not even know where I am in it, you know, is the beautiful thing about it,” Amanda told CBC News.
“If I can't pick out myself, how can anybody else pick me out?”
'I don’t know any pimp or whatever word you want to put on them who is going to pick up this report and go ‘OK, that is one of my girls.’ ' - "Amanda"
As a survivor of sexual exploitation, she does not believe there is a risk to others who found themselves in the same situation.
“So to even come up with the idea that this could be a danger to the public or a danger to people who participated is just absolutely ridiculous,” Amanda said.
“I don’t know any pimp or whatever word you want to put on them who is going to pick up this report and go ‘OK, that is one of my girls.’ ”
Amanda says the government is abusing its power, and calls the whole process disheartening.
“This gave a lot of people, and myself, an avenue to try to come out from behind something and not have that shame and fear of public opinion and different things put upon us,” Amanda said.
“And we were allowed out of that. And then when the government did this, they just put us right back in there again.”
If the video can be sent out, Amanda says, she doesn't understand why the report can't be released.
Government commissioned report
The provincial government commissioned and paid for the 2011 report, titled "It's Nobody's Mandate and Everyone's Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador.”
More than 100 key informants were interviewed between December 2010 and April 2011.
The report made a series of recommendations about how to address the issue of sexual exploitation in Newfoundland and Labrador.
CBC News made an editorial decision to publish only 10 pages of generic recommendations, suggestions for legislative action, and commentary about the importance of accountability, believing it to be in the public interest to do so.
Other information in the report was withheld from broadcast, in order to protect the identity of those who participated in the research.