To the St. John’s City Council,
Since 2017, the Living in Community St. John’s Steering Committee has been working to bring together our community to discuss the safety concerns of folks with past and current experiences of sex work and sexual exploitation. Much of this work has involved listening to the many concerned residents, sex workers, and organizations whose work supports marginalized groups and share the common goal of ensuring St. John’s is a safe, and welcoming, place for all to live and work.
The recent lifting of the moratorium on massage parlours has been a positive step in ensuring safe working environments for sex workers and their clients; freedom of choice in the type and number of massage parlours in which to work prioritizes the rights of sex workers.
As this conversation evolves into discussions about zoning regulations and formal re-naming, the Living in Community Steering Committee makes the following recommendations:
- Any further decisions about issues related to sex workers must include sex workers. Noting that it is often dangerous for a sex worker to identify themselves as such, their engagement must be encouraged through more than an open, public engagement session. Their right to privacy, to affirm their safety, should be respected through redactions, anonymous online submission, and any other possible means.
- To this end, as the process to identify the suggested name change to date has not included consultation with those who work in or avail of massage parlour services, we would advise that further engagement is necessary. We recommend developing a list of possible names, shared with time for public response. It is our concern that the suggested revision of “Body Rub Parlour” would further stigmatize sex workers and that even though it may only be used in city documentation as such, it sends a message that the City of St. John’s is not mindful of the possible harmful language used when discussing it’s citizens.
- To move forward, we suggest that the text remain as is (current as of 1994 development regulations) and that the planned name change is adopted into the final editing of the new development regulations (2020) to allow for more time for further engagement.
Living in Community St. John’s values safe space for open dialogue from all stakeholders (community organizations, government, sex workers, businesses, and residents) and believes that a rights-based approach ensures that voices often missing from our policy, processes, and procedures are centred. We are grateful to the City Council for being open to conversation about what is often a difficult subject. Your willingness to grow along with us as we explore what supporting all parts of our community means is an invaluable step toward equality.
The Living in Community St. John’s Steering Committee
What is Living in Community St. John’s?
Living in Community St. John’s is a project informed by the initiative of the same name in Vancouver. It’s a city-wide initiative that brings together representatives from government, service providers, law enforcement, community, and sex workers in a facilitated process aimed at creating safer communities for all. Our vision is to create respectful communities of health, safety and belonging for everyone in relation to sex work and youth sexual exploitation. This can only happen by bringing the wide range of voices involved to the table for solutions-focused engagement, as systemic change only happens when groups work collaboratively.
- Embracing diversity and being respectful of everyone
- Encouraging learning and self-growth as a path to change
- Active involvement of sex workers
- Taking a stance against youth sexual exploitation and for social justice
- Enabling equitable participation, understanding and building community
- Listening and being open to different perspectives
- Do no harm – not making decisions that put sex workers at greater risk
- Maintaining the confidentiality of committee members
This project is supported by Happy City St. John’s as an independent community organization dedicated to community dialogue around issues affecting our city.
Learn more about Living in Community Vancouver: https://livingincommunity.ca/
Learn more about Living in Community St. John’s: https://www.livingincommunityyyt.com/
Learn more about Happy City St. John’s: http://happycity.ca/
Community Developer, Happy City St. John’s