Sex workers are people, too, ad campaign reminds us
Advocacy group worried about violent attacks
By CHRIS LAMBIE Business Editor
Wed, Jan 26 - 4:54 AM
A controversial campaign designed by a local ad firm aims to humanize the gritty image of those practising the world’s oldest profession.
At first glance, you might expect the wholesome-looking woman staring from posters in Metro Transit bus shelters to be selling something like milk or granola.
"I’m glad my prostitute made me finish school," says the jarring copy that accompanies the ads for Stepping Stone, a Halifax group that advocates for and offers outreach to street-level sex workers. And then in much smaller type: "Sex workers are mothers too."
Another one of the ads shows a grandmotherly woman who looks as if she’s about to offer you a cookie.
"I’m proud of my tramp, raising two kids on her own," is her double-take inducing message to passersby.
"Sex workers are daughters too."
A bearded man in a sweatshirt smiles in the third Stepping Stone ad, produced by Halifax’s Extreme Group.
"At my wedding, my younger hooker gave the funniest speech," says the copy. "Sex workers are brothers too."
Violent attacks against prostitutes were Stepping Stone’s motivation for the campaign, according to Anthony Taaffe, the creative director at Extreme.
"People have a bad habit of pigeonholing sex workers as not being people," Taffe said Tuesday. "It’s easy not to care about a certain group within society if you actually don’t see them as people."
Remove the moral aspect of sex workers’ jobs and the public might relate to them as human beings first, he said.
"It’s easy for people to kind of go, ‘Oh, that woman’s just a whore,’ " Taffe said. "Well, no, that person is also somebody’s mother or somebody’s daughter or somebody’s sister or something like that. So it helps humanize them a little bit.
"And I think that’s what we want people to really understand is you might not necessarily agree with what they do for a job, but don’t forget that they’re humans and they deserve the same respect that you give to your brother or your father or your mother."
Extreme, which crafted the campaign for free, couldn’t find local actors willing to volunteer their faces for the ads.
"They didn’t want to face a lot of the stigma," said Rene Ross, the executive director of Stepping Stone.
Her own grandmother, Doris Lees, is the woman in the ad who looks like she’s about to dispense cookies. "I knew right away that she would be the perfect fit for the campaign," Ross said.
Extreme employees James Rothenburg and Julie Lawrence are the other two faces in the ads.
Stepping Stone has never reached out publicly in this way in its 20-plus years, Ross said.
"We did want to get people’s attention," she said. "And we really wanted folks to see sex workers for what they are, and that is people, and to get people talking about the issue, because the reality is sex workers are criminalized in Canada and they face a great amount of stigma, marginalization and violence."
This would have been a tough advertising assignment, said Ed McHugh, who teaches marketing at Dalhousie University and the Nova Scotia Community College.
"I like the execution, I like the theme and I like the shock value of it," McHugh said Tuesday of Extreme’s campaign. "It makes you stop and read and say, ‘OK, what’s going on here?’ "