St. John’s Status of Women Council calls for an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 13, 2017

St. John’s Status of Women Council calls for an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

The St. John’s Status of Women Council (SJSWC) and its Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) are deeply committed to the health, safety, and human rights of women, and trans women involved in the sex industry, including those who are at heightened risk of human trafficking and exploitation. As such, the SJSWC is asking the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) to immediately end the practice of Operation Northern Spotlight and all other undercover operations targeting sex workers.

Operation Northern Spotlight is a harmful attempt to deal with a complex issue, that targets sex workers for interrogation, detention and/or arrest, without adequately distinguishing between those who are underage and/or coerced, and those who are not.

This strategy is one that is based on deception and manipulation, as evidenced by police posing as sex workers’ clients in hotel rooms. These actions foster distrust and adversarial relationships with law enforcement. Pulling people out of the sex industry without their consent and penalizing those who do not agree to exit the sex industry does not ‘save’ or ‘rescue’ them. At its worst, it harms sex workers by forcing them underground to evade police. Further, this deters sex workers from turning to the police to report crime that they have witnessed and/or experienced. For women and girls who are at risk of exploitation and human trafficking this practice criminalizes them and perpetuates lack of safety and trust.

Jenny Wright, Executive Director of the St. John’s Status of Women Council:

 “We have been working with the police in good faith to find strategies to reduce violence against sex workers and find meaningful ways in which sex workers and the police can work collaboratively. Operation Northern Spotlight has broken that trust.”

‘Rescuing’ individuals who do not wish to be rescued has multiple impacts. Sex workers report being confused and frightened and may suffer trauma and even exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Sex workers lose income and experience economic hardship. This places sex workers in a precarious position where they must either accept dates or provide services they normally would not. This operation further criminalizes women by increasing their chances of being arrested and detained on non- sex work related charges.

Bridget Clarke, Outreach Worker, Safe Harbour Outreach Project:

 “Women we work with at SHOP are confused, angry, and feel threatened by Operation Northern Spotlight. Some women have told us that they are no longer doing outcalls so their working conditions have immediately become less safe.”

Targeting sex workers through approaches that induce fear and increase mistrust of police jeopardizes any chance of cooperation between sex workers and law enforcement. This type of repressive enforcement also threatens the foundation of a collaborative, multi-stakeholder, community-based approach that SJSWC has been working painstakingly towards – in our shared goal of reducing violence against sex workers.

SJSWC joins Ontario and British Columbia advocates in calling for an immediate end to Operation Northern Spotlight, instead we ask that law enforcement:

  • Include sex worker voices in any and all work to end human tracking and exploitation;
  • Stop using anti-trafficking programs to justify the intrusion of law enforcement in places where consensual sex work is done, including indoor sex work businesses;
  • Review existing anti-trafficking policies and programs that equate sex work with human trafficking.

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Media Contact

Heather Jarvis

Program Coordinator

Safe Harbour Outreach Project

709.771.1077

heather@sjwomenscentre.ca

About St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre 

The St. John’s Status of Women Council/Women’s Centre is a feminist organization that since 1972 is continually working to achieve equality and justice through political activism, community collaboration and the creation of a safe and inclusive space for all women in the St. John’s area. The St. John’s Status of Women Council operates the Women’s Centre, Marguerite’s Place Supportive Housing Program and the Safe Harbour Outreach Project.

About Safe Harbour Outreach Project  

The Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) exists to advocate for the human rights of sex workers. SHOP serves women for whom sex work is an occupation; we also serve women who are in the industry not by choice, who are wishing to exit. We provide front line support, system navigation and outreach from a harm reduction approach.

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