We want to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we live and work is First Nations’ territory. The city of Brantford and surrounding area lies on the lands of the Anishinaabe, the Haudenosaunee, and the Neutral. This land acknowledgment, while symbolic, is not enough; it does not support Indigenous communities and struggles in real ways. As employees of the social service sector, as educators, and as individuals who benefit from the occupation of this land, we have a responsibility to continuously frame our work through a de-colonial lens, to constantly educate ourselves, and to build reciprocal relationships that are rooted in the values and histories of Indigenous communities. We are all treaty members, and thus must strive to act in Solidarity with Indigenous folks and center their voices. 

REAL (Resources Education and Advocacy Locally for Sex Work)

REAL is the new name for the community collaboration that began in 2005 as STREET (Sex Trade Resources Education and Empowerment Team).  The committee originally met to address service gaps that sex workers were experiencing in Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk, New Credit and Six Nations of the Grand River including health and safety concerns. STREET also provided education for the community, specialized training to individual agencies as requested, written materials for doctors, hospitals, police and social service agencies, and outreach to sex workers. In 2014 Sarah Stevens from Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services successfully applied for an Ontario Trillium Foundation funded research grant, in collaboration with Wilfrid Laurier  and the Sexual Assault Centre of Brant.  Let’s Talk About Sex Work: Report of the REAL working group for Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk, Assessing the Needs of Sex Workers in Our Community identified areas in which the communities of Brantford, Brant, Haldimand and Norfolk, could do a better job of being inclusive and providing respectful and appropriate services to sex workers.  It was also intended to raise awareness among local social and health service providers’ concerns and perspectives.  One recommendation that came forward was in reference to the name change as it was identified by participants that STREET acronym was confusing and not inclusive as the committee advocates for all people doing sex work and not only for street-level sex workers.  

REAL’s Mission: To create a forum whereby community members and service providers can provide outreach, resources, and information to individuals involved in sex work within the regions of Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk, New Credit and Six Nations of the Grand River. Primary goals include increasing the safety of sex workers and the knowledge of service providers regarding sex work.  REAL is committed to ensuring that all sex workers who access local agencies are treated with dignity and respect and are offered non-judgmental, supportive, and inclusive services.

REAL’s Objectives: Increasing the safety of sex workers by providing information, education, advocacy, and resources
Increasing general awareness and sensitivity to issues related to sex work though community education, written resources, and consultation
Providing education and consultation to service providers to increase the availability of non-judgmental, supportive, and inclusive services
Advocating for and advancing the human and labour rights of sex workers
Linking and referring individuals involved in sex work to appropriate services and resources

Membership in REAL can be applied for by any agency providing services in Brantford, Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk, Six Nations of the Grand River, and New Credit that may potentially provide direct services to sex workers. Previous or current sex workers are also encouraged to join REAL.

Recommendations from Let’s Talk About Sex Work: Report of the REAL Working Group for Brantford, Brant, Haldimand, Norfolk, Accessing the Needs of Sex Work in Our Community:

Community social service and healthcare providers should respect individual’s terms of self-identification; do not label clients involved in sex work as victims, or make assumptions of coercion or exploitation where the individual does not experience it.

Be open to individuals’ realities; listen carefully to sex workers’ descriptions of their needs or concerns; do not assume that sex work is the primary issue for which they need assistance.

Services must never be contingent on an expectation of leaving the industry; offer choices and services in a non-judgemental way that respects individuals’ right to choose to do sex work. Do not assume that leaving sex work is or should be the individual’s goal in seeking assistance.

Share accurate and up-to-date information about sex workers’ legal rights whenever possible. This requires that service providers themselves are educated about the laws and have access to plain-language descriptions of the laws. An excellent resource is freely available from Stella (Montreal) at:

The City of Brantford and the town of Simcoe, with REAL, should work towards the development of drop-in centres for sex workers and street-involved women. These centres should be easily accessible, located in a safe space that would not make women vulnerable to identification (and stigmatization), welcoming and free of judgement with respect to sex work and sex workers. The centres should offer practical assistance, a safe space to go, and non-judgemental peer-based support. Alternatively, a mobile camper van unit could be utilized to offer the same services in the counties on a rotating basis.

Both in-patient and out-patient drug rehabilitation services should be more widely available in our region. Sex workers should be able to access addictions counsellors who understand the dynamics of the sex industry’s intersections with drugs and who do not stereotype or stigmatize sex workers who are users.

Sex work should not be constructed as an automatic risk factor in child protection and custody cases. The literature demonstrates that many sex workers are effective parents; custody decisions should be made on the basis of actual danger, rather than stereotypes of risk. 

As a matter of standard practice, police should not lay charges for drugs or other offences on individuals who call for assistance or to report a sexual or physical assault.

Increase the accessibility of sexual health services and other community services through longer operating hours and telephone coverage. Do not assume that all clients can or will leave messages and can be called back.

Agencies should ensure that the confidentiality of all social and health services is reiterated to clients as a matter of standard practice, and respected (within the legal limits of confidentiality).

 Work towards the universal availability of extended healthcare services in BHN, including dental and vision care, and prescription drug coverage.

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