Power control issues between sex workers and police officers are not uncommon according to Peers Victoria Resource Society, a sex worker advocacy group.
“When we’re talking about sex workers reporting sexual violence to police, sometimes sex workers, not irregularly, face power control issues with police,” said Rachel Phillips, executive director of Peers. “Sometimes that means they are further sexually victimized by police.”
Phillips said this is a general trend for sex workers and not just a local occurrence.
Recently, a report by the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner revealed that an officer from the Saanich Police Department had been retroactively fired following 11 substantiated misconduct allegations in regards to an “inappropriate” relationship with a sex worker, including failing to conduct an adequate investigation into the complaint of a sexual assault and robbery
The officer was also found to have sent and received sexual text messages and images from a victim of a crime (though it was not specified if this person was a sex trade worker).
In the same report, one Oak Bay officer faced discipline after allegations of using services of sex trade workers, possibly while on duty.
“To me it’s not a problem that an officer might have a relationship with someone in the industry,” Phillips said. “The problem is if there’s a conflict of interest with their role or abusing their power.”
Phillips said that because of power struggle issues, as well a legality issues around sex work, most workers will not go to police if they are facing problems.
“Of all the bad date and aggressor reports, probably less than five per cent of workers are willing to meet with police,” Phillips said. “People in the sex industry are structurally at odds with police because of criminal codes which say that sex work is wrong, so there’s a distrust amongst police services.”
Phillips said there’s also the problem of stigma against sex workers, as well as societal prejudice and racism.
“Some of our more marginalized people experience criminalization and poor treatment from police on multiple angles,” Phillips said, adding it was particularly bad with Indigenous workers. “Within certain sub populations, it’s a cultural problem.”
Phillips did note, however, that Peers and the Victoria Police Department are trying to foster a healthier relationship between officers and sex workers by utilizing two liaison officers who are women. While sex workers are still hesitant to speak with the officers, Phillips said there’s room for education and growth with that outreach.
“I think liaison relationships have to be grounded in a philosophy of support,” Phillips said. “Maybe Saanich in particular should consider getting liaison officers of their own.”
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