Women clad in black jackets and red boas called for the end of violence against sex workers at a small demonstration outside of the Montreal Courthouse Wednesday.
Inside, Giovanni D’Amico, a middle-aged small businessman, was on trial for sexually assaulting Montreal sex workers between 2001 and 2008.
When D’Amico was originally charged in July, four sex workers had come forward to the police with accusations. But both the police and Stella – a Montreal organization created for and by sex workers – suspected D’Amico may have assaulted more women. They urged those with information to alert the police.
“We want to tell sex workers they have to bring complaints to the police [about violence and sexual abuse by clients]. It’s not a lost cause. Violence shouldn’t be part of the job,” said Elsa Le Maire, the director of Stella.
Three sex workers will testify against D’Amico in the trial.
The 25 women at the protest, staged by Stella, participated in solidarity with the sex workers abused by D’Amico.
Matthew McLauchlin, a member of the NDP’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and transexual (LGBTT) committee, encouraged Stella and the sex workers demonstrating, and commended the community for respecting their demands.
“It’s great that these complaints by sex workers have finally been taken seriously. It happens all too rarely,” McLauchlin said.
Dealing with police officers is often challenging for sex workers because prostitution is criminalized in Quebec, Le Maire said – though she was impressed with the way the police handled the D’Amico case.
“The police are becoming more and more responsive,” she said. “But for some sex workers, it’s a double-edged sword. They see the police as their enemy since sex work is criminal, but the police are also supposed to protect them.”
La Maire pointed to clauses in the criminal code – such as those that criminalize bawdy houses – that make sex work dangerous. According to Stella, current conditions hamper safety and make it difficult for sex workers to judge their clients.
Disturbed by the 50 sex workers who have disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, McLauchlin remarked on the national lack of attention paid to violence against sex workers.
“If 50 bankers went missing, it would be a national emergency. But since it’s sex workers, it’s allowed to pass in silence,” he said.
Sorouja Moll, a Concordia PhD student in history and gender studies, and attendee of the event, commended Stella for providing an inviting forum for often isolated sex workers.
“In the seventeenth century, prostitutes were flogged, and it was a spectacle. That type of abuse and brutality can become so normalized in our lexicon and it’s just accepted. [The trial] says that it’s wrong,” she said.