The death of a city escort has struck fear into people involved with Edmonton's sex trade.
"It's scary," said one woman, who works as an escort and knew the victim, 20-year-old Chantel Brittnay Robertson.
The woman, who didn't want to be named, was one of a few mourners who visited a makeshift memorial in front of the Ritchie-area home where police found Robertson dead on Monday. Two days earlier, Robertson went missing after going to a client's house near 98 Street and 80 Avenue.
Police have charged Matthew Todd Barrett, 24, with first-degree murder but so far haven't said what caused Robertson's death.
Carol-Lynn Strachan, an advocate for sex-trade workers in Edmonton, said escort services do have safety procedures to minimize the risks. Someone from the agency usually calls an escort five minutes before she's due to finish with a client. If the escort doesn't answer, that's an immediate sign of trouble that should cause the agency to check on her and, if necessary, call police.
But the woman who laid flowers at Robertson's memorial yesterday said the slaying has her considering whether to get out of the business.
"For me, I have that option, but some girls don't have a choice," she said.
Kathy King, acting executive director of the Prostitution Awareness and Action Foundation of Edmonton (PAAFE) is concerned about what she calls a "myth" that people who work "inside" as escorts are safer than street prostitutes. While Robertson had a driver who was supposed to stay in touch with her, King pointed out that wasn't enough to keep her from dying.
"It was safer in that there was that network, and yet he was unable to save her from her fate that night," she said. "It just shows that there's no safety when you have men who are exploiting women."
Now, PAAFE is trying to make inroads among Edmonton's bustling escort community through a peer-counselling support line it hopes to start up in September. The goal is to help prostitutes and escorts find services such as addictions treatment and housing support so they can eventually get out of the sex trade, said King.
Strachan, however, argues cases like Robertson's death can be avoided through quicker action to find missing sex-trade workers.
She said that although the escort agency, J.U.I.C.E. (Just Us Independent Canadian Escorts) called police early on after Robertson disappeared early Saturday morning, it wasn't until 2 a.m. Sunday that cops began their investigation.
"When a girl doesn't call out, there is something seriously wrong, and you have got to get in there," she said.