The text promised only one man would be waiting for Rebecca MacKinnon inside a Truro hotel room on Christmas Eve 2015.
There were three.
She could have bolted. While one man greeted her at the door, she noticed another door to the second entrance of the room quickly open and slam shut.
“It turned out OK in the end,” she recalled in a recent telephone conversation from her Dartmouth apartment. “But I didn’t think it would be right but I had to at the time. Some of my past life is fuzzy because I decided not to remember most of it. I was living his life for him. I couldn’t do it unless I was high on weed. I needed something to keep my mind off the nightmare of it.”
This offers a snapshot into MacKinnon’s life as a sex worker between mid-2014 and early 2016. Her pimp was Thomas (Tommy) MacDonald, her then-boyfriend and roommate. Every day during that year-and-a-half period, she was forced to have sex with various men for money, almost always at their Truro apartment, she said. Half of her earnings went to MacDonald.
MacKinnon remained in a relationship with MacDonald over nine years. Apart from the first year they were together, she said she endured almost daily abuse, including psychological, physical and sexual, at the hands of MacDonald. During the summer of 2015, she dove out of a moving car to get away from him. She finally left MacDonald in April 2016, mid-way through his prison sentence for possession of child pornography and two counts of procuring sexual services of a person under the age of 18. That’s when she left Truro for good.
Now he’s out of jail and will remain on the National Sex Offender Registry for life. MacDonald’s recent Facebook postings suggest he’s living in Halifax. On Jan. 31, he posted on Halifax Buy, Sell Trade and Give Away looking for a Keurig coffee maker, saying he had recently moved to Halifax and was “in need of stuff to give away or price cheap.” Two days before that, he posted a picture from a downtown apartment balcony overlooking the Macdonald Bridge. He responded to a post complimenting the view saying, he’s 16 floors up and afraid of heights.
MacKinnon, 30, spends most of her time cooped up in her apartment, too terrified to venture out into the city. MacKinnon said she’s seen the pictures and her acquaintances tell her they’ve spotted him in the city.
Nova Scotia RCMP couldn’t verify this since the Sex Offender Registration Information Act prohibits police from disclosing his residence.
Back in the summer of 2015, both were charged with 10 prostitution- related offences, including possession of child pornography, advertising the sexual services of a person, and procuring sexual services of a person under the age of 18.
All of the charges against MacKinnon were dropped.
MacKinnon was an unwilling accomplice, she said. She knew of the crimes he was committing, using Facebook to lure vulnerable girls throughout the province and then selling them for sex. In many cases, they would arrive at their apartment, where the prostitution would occur, she said. MacKinnon regrets not going to the police but she feared for her life. She said MacDonald pressured her to engage in sexual acts with some of these girls but MacKinnon said she never did.
She’s speaking out now to prevent others from falling into the same trap she did.
“But what I’m trying to do is change it. Just because I’m trying to get the word out, it’s not going to change what I did in the past.
“I could have gotten out of it. But when you’re in an abusive situation like that, you feel you can’t. You’re so scared you can’t think of a way out.”
She was just one of MacDonald’s girls. Like the others, he posted her profile on online escort sites. Clients would contact her directly. Almost always MacDonald would be around, making sure she made herself available all hours of the day. While she provided her services, sexual intercourse and oral sex, he would almost always be in the adjoining room of their apartment.
“All kinds of men, 80- and 60-year-olds, 300- and 200-pound men,” recalled MacKinnon. “My phone would go off and I would look at the message and they said, ‘Are you available?’ I wouldn’t want to answer my phone. But he would say, ‘If you don’t answer your phone we’re not going to get something to eat.’
“Those men weren’t that bad and would sometimes ask me how I was doing and I couldn’t say anything because he’s in the second room. No way to get out.”
She says she’s turned her back on prostitution and she’s trying to move forward with her new life. Currently surviving on social assistance, she’s using the services of Reachability, a Halifax-based organization that helps underprivileged people find work.
“I’ll take anything that gives me a paycheque … McDonalds, Tim Hortons.”
Currently she has a new partner, who she says is supportive and understanding.
She knows it’s a potentially risky move going public about her past relationship with MacDonald. But she’s willing to accept what comes of it.
“I think it’s the right thing to do. People will talk and they’ll judge me but I would like a little bit of compassion. It’s really hard living with what I have done and I don’t think it’s right to judge anyone unless you’ve walked in their shoes.”