Nfld. & Labrador

Murder of Victoria Head 'preventable crime,' says former sex worker

Police say Victoria Head's murder may have been connected to her work in the sex trade.

Michelle Keep says changes in attitudes and laws could help keep sex workers safe

Michelle Keep is a former sex worker. She says better laws and better attitudes could help keep sex workers safe. (Gary Locke/CBC)

A former sex worker says the murder of Victoria Head in St. John's was a "preventable crime."

The prevention, said Michelle Keep, could come from changing laws. Attitudes toward sex work need to change as well, she said.

"I don't think my heart can break any more. I'm so mad," said Keep, an author and former sex worker.

"I just want government to finally listen to what the voices of people who are dealing with this every day are saying."

Funeral services for Victoria Head are on Nov. 20th. (Caul's Funeral Home)

The body of 36-year-old Victoria Head was found early in the morning on Remembrance Day near O'Brien Farm on Oxen Pond Road.

She was a sex worker, said police, and that "may be connected to her murder."

Funeral services for Head will be held Nov. 20.

'People think of sex workers as disposable'

Some reactions to the case illustrate attitudes which contribute to the stigmatization of sex work, said Keep.

She said people are making comments online about the nature of sex work being inherently dangerous — that Head ought to have expected or even deserved violence because of what she did for a living.

"People think of sex workers as disposable," she said.

Victoria Head, 36, was identified by police Tuesday night as the woman found dead in an isolated area of O'Brien Farm Road in St. John's on Nov. 11. (RNC)

Also disturbing, said Keep, are comments along the lines of, "It's just somebody after prostitutes, we don't have to worry."

There's a lot of "othering," she said.

"There's a lot of people who view the death of a sex worker differently than they'd view the death of somebody else."

It's so many layers of grief.- Michelle Keep

Keep said even the RNC issued a warning to sex workers and to residents of downtown.

"Sex trade workers are members of our community, they are members of downtown," she said. "It's not sex trade workers and downtown residents, it's downtown residents."

Prostitution laws make work more dangerous

Current laws around prostitution also push sex work into the shadows, said Keep.

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 2013 that a section of the country's prostitution laws were unconstitutional.

The Harper government drew up new laws in 2014, which have been in place ever since. These rules, in part, make it illegal to both buy and advertise sex.

Some advocates for sex workers say the Harper rules are even worse than the laws they replaced.

They make it harder for sex workers to work together, or to use bodyguards and drivers, said Keep. With laws targeting buyers, she said, it's harder for sex workers to screen clients.

Michelle Keep says existing prostitution laws are, "pushing people further into the shadows." (Gary Locke/CBC)

"[The new legislation] hasn't done anything to prevent these crimes, it hasn't done anything to prevent the sex trade from growing, it doesn't help people who are voluntarily in the sex trade, and it doesn't help people who are forced into the sex trade."

Keep said better laws and better attitudes would help keep sex workers such as Victoria Head safe.

"It's so hard when you lose anybody, but when you lose somebody to a violent and preventable crime, it's even more heartbreaking," she said. "It's so many layers of grief."

With files from Anthony Germain