Politics of prostitution: Indigenous inquiry hears different views on sex trade

The commission is holding its third day of testimony in St. John's.

'Prostitution paid for my daughter's tap-dancing shoes'

Mary Fearon is the director of the Blue Door Program in St. John's, which helps sex workers leave the trade. (CBC)

The inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women heard testimony Wednesday from a woman who runs a new program in St. John's that helps people leave the sex trade, and which has already reached its capacity.

"There were a lot of vulnerable youth in the community who were being exploited," said Mary Fearon, who runs the Blue Door program. 

Although it only started accepting clients about a year ago, the program now has 21 people enrolled. 

Another 10 are on a waiting list. 

Fearon said a third of them are Indigenous. Almost all are female. 

Lanna Moon Perrin says working in the sex trade empowered her to take care of her family. (CBC)

"We saw the need and we recognized that there needed to be a service to support people who were engaging in the sex trade," said Fearon, adding that the Blue Door already needs more resources.

"Our program is five years and there's starting to becoming an urgency around that," Fearon said. 

She added the "exiting process can be very, very long and complicated when you're dealing with addictions, mental health and homelessness."

On Monday, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Joe Boland told the inquiry how his force works with the Blue Door program to connect with sex workers.

Fearon says when someone enrols, case workers help to come up with an exit strategy — but change doesn't happen overnight.

"People are doing the best they can with where they are in that very moment," she said.

"It takes a lot of courage to come through a door and say, 'I need help.'"

'I'm not a victim'

The inquiry, which is in the third day of hearings in St. John's, also heard from Lanna Moon Perrin, an Anishinaabe woman from Sudbury, Ont. who describes herself as an activist and a sex worker.

Perrin described leaving home as a teenager and living on her own.

Tissues collected will be burnt in a ceremonial fire. (Bailey White/CBC)

"I started with street-level sex work at 16 just so that I could buy things for myself," she said. "A winter jacket, winter boots, decent food to eat."

Perrin said sex work allowed her to provide for herself and her two children. She said she felt empowered by that.

"I'm not a victim because I chose to do that," she said, "Prostitution paid for my daughter's tap-dancing shoes."

We want an end to this violence and we want our girls and our women to be safe.- Robyn Bourgeois, Brock University

Perrin advocates for the decriminalization of sex work. She believes laws against it endanger people who work in the trade.

"We have to hide from police, we have to go to places that are even more isolated," she said. "We get victimized when we get pushed into the darkness."

Robyn Bourgeois, a professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., testified about the different ways academics and advocates approach the sex trade. Some want to see it decriminalized, while others want to see it abolished — but she said there is one common goal.

"No matter what, we all want the same thing," she said.

"We want an end to this violence and we want our girls and our women to be safe."

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