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Calgary police chief weighs in on the complexities of protecting sex workers

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Calgary's police chief is encouraging sex trade workers to report abuse, assaults and any other issues they encounter to the recently-created Bad Date Line.

"Individuals involved in sex work are always at risk," Chief Const. Mark Neufeld said during an interview on Calgary's CTV Morning Live on Tuesday.

"Individuals involved in sex work understand acutely the risks that they face, and police do as well, but there's always been barriers for reporting."

Neufeld said while most in the sex trade will call 911 if they need immediate help, many feel uncomfortable reaching out for anything that isn't life-threatening.

"It's when people are involved with individuals or have an experience that makes them feel uncomfortable, sometimes they look after that amongst themselves in the community, but the information doesn't make it to police," he said.

Violence against Calgary sex workers became a renewed focus for police last year, after charges were laid against a man accused of kidnapping and sexually assaulting local sex workers.

Richard Robert Mantha faces more than two dozen offences, including sexual assault with a weapon and kidnapping.

"One of the things we did after the Mantha case, about a year ago, was recognize there was a gap in terms of the ways that people could report quickly," Neufeld said.

"So we put together – working with our non-profit partner HER Victory in Forest Lawn – a hotline, a tip line, a bad date line, that people could reach out to 24-7 to provide information if they had a situation where they were uncomfortable."

Earlier this month, police charged two men with first-degree murder in the death of Chelsea Davidenas. Investigators believe she was targeted because of her history as a sex worker.

Neufeld said he hopes organizations like HER Victory and RESET Society of Calgary can be used to bridge the gap between those in the sex trade who need support and police.

HER Victory founder Jacquie Meyer says the Bad Date Line creates a safe and anonymous place for people to report incidents to the police

"The line has been very well received and utilized not only to assist police in arrests and prevention, but (to keep) those caught in the sex industry safe and protected," she said in a statement to CTV News. 

"The Bad Date Line reduces the barrier for individuals who may not otherwise report and creates an outlet so their voices are heard."

To report a bad date, you can call 403-816-9400 or email baddate@calgarypolice.ca.

The Bad Date Line was launched May 30, 2023.

Since then, police say 39 reports have been filed, some of which pertained to ongoing investigations.

The information will not be used by police to target sex workers, but instead will be used by police to target individuals causing harm to sex workers.

For information on other supports and resources available, you can visit the Report a Bad Date website.

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