The sex trade and sexual exploitation report released last week after more than four years under wraps uncovers “a giant fossil of an issue,” according to the N.L. Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre’s executive director Nicole Kieley.
She says past ventures aimed at better understanding the topic locally have been akin to trying to brush away sand from a dinosaur skeleton on a windy day — in other words, quite challenging.
The latest report offers a clearer picture.
“(It) probably is, to me, the very first time in which the issue has been uncovered and that you get a sense of the scope and how large and immense this is, and it’s a provincewide issue, and that it moves into areas we never had correlated it with,” she said, mentioning a lack of housing and other various ways the economy and addictions can factor in to the whole.
She said references to violence and control in the report reflects what people within her organization have been hearing about in calls to the sexual assault crisis line (1-800-726-2743, available 24/7).
It is an anonymous line and she encourages people to call, noting staff at the centre make no personal judgments.
“First and foremost, we know deeply and immensely the stigma and silence that’s already attached to sexual violence. And then that’s only compounded by the stigma that is attached to sex work,” she said.
Violence has accompanied prostitution in the province and there have been some charges and prosecutions.
One example is the case of Shawn Newman, convicted of five charges after he was found to have lived off the prostitution proceeds of two women. He also committed common assault against one of the women and assault with a weapon against a third woman.
He was sentenced to 36 months in prison. The convictions were upheld on appeal, in a decision issued in 2009.
“(One of the women) admitted at trial that, at the time of the offences, she was 19 years old and working as a prostitute, and that she was (a) habitual, addicted user of crack cocaine,” court records state.
He was a “parasite,” according to the judge, who noted Newman took that woman’s profits from prostitution to get drugs for himself.
One of Newman’s assaults involved him holding a knife to the woman’s throat.
The other woman was only a girl, 14 years old at the time she was assaulted, although the trial judge said he did not believe Newman knew her age. “(She) admitted in her evidence that, at the time, she was working as a prostitute and was addicted to crack cocaine.”
A more recent case in St. John’s has yet to go to a final ruling, but involves charges against two men for drug trafficking. The court records refer to a house where the men have been “running girls,” according to a police source.
In 2011, a man was convicted of confining and assaulting a woman from St. John’s who works as a prostitute. She had known him since she was 16 and was in her 30s at the time of the crimes. “She said that she engaged in prostitution in St. John’s both to help finance (his) drugs and to earn the approximately $220 to $240 a day required to support her own drug habit,” the record states.
In the latter case, the woman sought out a safe place to stay on more than one occasion, heading to the Naomi Centre, an eight-bed emergency shelter for women ages 16-30, run by Stella’s Circle.
“It would be rare that they would not be all taken,” said Stella’s Circle executive director Lisa Brown, asked this week about the centre and whether or not they encounter women in the sex trade.
She said the average age of women availing of the shelter at last check was 22. The average stay is 35 days, with shelter staff helping visitors find longer-term housing.
People identifying themselves as sex workers, or as having been sexually exploited, remain in the minority, she said.
There’s a similar situation at Iris Kirby House, where women working in the sex trade are not often seen or otherwise do not identify as being in the trade. Even so, volunteers with that organization said, the number is growing.
As with the crisis line, both shelters said they make no judgments, but offer space and support where women who have experienced violence may choose to transition out of their situation.
Some jurisdictions have seen crackdowns on prostitution under new federal laws, including in Cape Breton, where 27 men, ages 26 to 81, were arrested by the regional police and faced charges of obtaining sexual services for consideration, according to a CBC news report from Sept. 8 this year.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, the RCMP charged just three people with prostitution-related offences between January 2011 and December 2014, The Telegram was told. And no charges for prostitution-related offences have been laid by the RCMP so far in 2015.
“The RCMP remain committed to the safety of women who, for whatever reason, find themselves within this dangerous trade,” stated an emailed response to questions.
The RNC was unable to provide related statistics as of deadline.