A petition from a Forest Lawn resident to “stop the stroll” on 19th Avenue S.E. isn’t being received well by other members of the community, who say relocating sex workers out of the area is not the solution to the problem.
For more than 25 years, 19th Avenue S.E. has been host to the city’s most notorious “stroll.” William Carnegie, former president of the Forest Lawn Community Association, says he and other residents are fed up with what he described as the city’s approval of sex trafficking in the area.
“Essentially, both the city and police have accepted that prostitutes are going to be walking up the avenue and johns are going to go there, and all of this should be only in one location. Unfortunately, this is the consensus when I’ve spoken to the city and police,” said Carnegie.
Health and safety issues are also becoming a significant concern for residents who live on 19th Avenue. Needles, used condoms and tampons are being littered on the streets, close to daycare centres and bus routes. Carnegie said one of the major safety concerns is the johns who come into the neighbourhood looking for sex.
“Johns are stopping women who aren’t sex workers in their mid-20s to late 30s walking down 19th Avenue and offering drugs in exchange for sex in the middle of the daytime,” said Carnegie.
The goal behind the “stop the stroll” petition is to push prostitution out of Forest Lawn and into a controlled industrial area where there is no residential housing.
However, Jacquie Meyer, who runs Her Victory out of the Eastside Victory Outreach Church, says moving sex workers isn’t the solution to the problem.
“You can’t treat people like wild animals and cage them in an industrial area,” said Meyer. “These are human beings who don’t have the step in life as some people do. We are coming from a humanitarian side of things.”
Her Victory is dedicated to helping women who work in the sex industry in any way possible. The organization provides everything from food, clothing and shelter to prayer. The church is also committed to offering sex workers direction and support so they can find an exit strategy from the sex industry.
While Carnegie says Her Victory has a “noble cause,” he is still advocating for support from every community in the city to sign his petition.
Sgt. Ray Hostland, who has worked in the district for many years, says that vice units have been set up to target the johns, but because of laws that surround the sex trade, the problem will continue to persist until sex workers in the area decide to make a change.
“The best way to get them off the street is to help them with their addictions and get them back on their feet.” Hostland adds, “I think that the problem is most of them don’t want help right now.”