New Westminster city council and senior staff will take part in a workshop to learn about sex work so the city can take action to keep sex workers safe.
Council unanimously approved a motion that city council and senior staff take part in a workshop provided by a peer-driven organization that works directly with sex workers. The motion also directs staff to report back to council with sex worker safety policies, including staff training, from other municipalities, including policies related to bylaws and policing.
“I would like to acknowledge that we haven’t had a lot of conversations about sex work in our community,” said Coun. Mary Trentadue. “I know historically the city had some interventions that were used. I would say it is an important conversation that we ought to have.”
The motion, put forward by Trentadue and Coun. Nadine Nakagawa, states that sex workers are pushed to the margins of society, where they are put in harm’s way for their occupation, which has led to sex workers being murdered in the city. It stated that while New Westminster doesn’t have any current policies that address sex worker safety, other municipalities have developed policies that New West could learn from and use as a model.
“When we talk about being an inclusive community, this is about being inclusive to everyone. And this is about making sure that people who chose to work in the city can do so safely,” Trentadue said. “I think it’s really important that if council is going to direct policy, make decisions about people in their workplace that we have a full understanding of the work that they do.”
Nakagawa said several sex workers have been murdered in New West, and she thinks it’s important the city acknowledges that and responds in a very public way.
“At the end of the day, we are talking about an occupational safety issue,” she said. “It’s really important that we recognize that there are sex workers in our community and that they should not be at risk of being murdered because of their work.”
Some cities, like Vancouver, have policies in place to ensure sex worker safety, recognizing that it is an occupation and that people deserve to be safe in their work no matter what views people may personally have about their line of work, Nakagawa said.
“There are organizations that provide these types of workshops, like Living in Community or PACE, who have deep expertise in working with sex workers and really knowing what the city should be doing,” she said.
Nakagawa said she’s grateful to the organizations that are currently working with sex workers in the community.
“Too often when these conversations take place, there is moralistic discussion that goes into it,” she said.