Vigil planned for Hamilton woman at site where she was brutally attacked by 24-year-old man

Sex Workers' Action Program Hamilton has organized a vigil for a 46-year-old woman who suffered a violent sexual assault on Barton Street East in the early morning hours on June 27.

Sex Workers' Action Program Hamilton says vigil will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 15

A woman was attacked in an alley off Barton Street in Hamilton on June 27. (Submitted by SWAP Hamilton/Twitter)

Sex Workers' Action Program (SWAP) Hamilton has organized a vigil for a 46-year-old woman who suffered a violent sexual assault on Barton Street East in the early morning hours on June 27.

SWAP Executive Director Jelena Vermilion says the vigil — which will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on July 15 at the alleyway where the woman was attacked — is an opportunity for the Hamilton community to show up for sex workers.

"We need to decriminalize sex work in order to keep people safer," Vermilion told CBC Hamilton on Sunday.

Police say "the brutal attack" left the woman "in critical condition and unconscious."

Vermilion says the woman's condition remains the same, almost a week after the attack.

"She had broken cheekbones, nose and jaw, and she underwent surgery this week. She's still unconscious. She's still in the coma. Her face is still unrecognizable," she said.

"The doctors are not sure whether she will regain consciousness, so it is a large part of why we are [holding] this vigil, because it is uncertain.

"Also, her mother had actually suggested that we throw something and the mother had asked to participate in it, so we wanted to honour her wishes," Vermilion added. 

The organization is also raising funds to help pay the mother's expenses, who came to Hamilton from Woodstock, Ont., to be with her daughter and has a limited budget being on the Ontario Disability Support Program, SWAP said. 

Arrest made

On Thursday police said the man — a 24-year-old from Hamilton —  responsible for "this senseless beating and sexual assault" was identified and arrested by detectives, without incident, around 10 p.m. on Wednesday.

He appeared in court on Thursday and and was charged with aggravated sexual assault.

SWAP is a non-partisan group consisting of concerned individuals — including those with lived experience — agencies and groups committed to assisting and supporting those working in the sex trade industry.

The group's three main areas of work are education, outreach and advocacy.

Jelena Vermilion with Sex Workers' Action Program Hamilton is helping to organize a vigil on July 15. (Submitted by Jelena Vermilion)

Vermilion says the woman "is known as being a sex worker," adding that the point of SWAP Hamilton existing is to stand against the stigma that exists in society. 

"When something terrible like this happens, as unfortunate as the reason for it being, it is an opportunity for people in the city to come together to express that they believe in standing against violence against people, and particularly against sex workers," she said. 

"And it sort of creates this opportunity for a discussion around the legislation that we have in Canada and why the legislation creates vulnerabilities for people who are in the sex trade or other people who are more marginalized in society."

SWAP Hamilton is encouraging people attending the vigil to wear red clothing in solidarity with sex workers, and to be mindful of COVID-19 precautions. It's also encouraging people to make or bring banners, posters, or other signs of support as part of their participation.

"We want as many people to show up to show their support because if this was your child who was attacked, regardless of whether they were or were not a sex worker, we would want the support of the community, we would want people to care, we would want people to show up," Vermilion said.

"If I was bludgeoned half to death, I would want my family to show up, I would want my city and my community and my neighborhood to show up. I had facial surgery recently, that was elective, and I can tell you that it was incredibly painful. It did not include my cheekbones being broken or my jaw being broken, and I can only imagine the physical pain that the victim is also enduring right now, to no fault of her own.

"The sexual assault, the perpetuation of sexual violence against people and particularly sex workers, it's something that we'd like to combat, to fight against," Vermilion added. 


Desmond Brown

Web Writer / Editor

Desmond joined CBC News in October 2017. He previously worked with The Associated Press, Caribbean Media Corporation and Inter Press Service. You can reach him at: desmond.brown@cbc.ca.