Wendy Babcock was a pillar for marginalized people in her community.
Despite her struggles in life, including an abusive childhood and becoming a sex worker at age 15, she went on to attend Osgoode Hall Law School.
She died last week at age 32, but her legacy will live on, says MaryKay MacVicar, a supervisor at Street Health in Toronto who worked with Babcock.
“She had such a devotion to the people in this community that she worked with. And these folks really struggle with really complex health and social issues.”
As a harm reduction worker at Street Health, Babcock helped people turn their lives around. And as a former sex worker, Babcock became an advocate for sex workers’ rights and used her experience to educate women and provide them with support.
Among her many accomplishments, MacVicar says Babcock did outreach work on the streets; ran a women’s drop-in centre in partnership with the Regent Park Community Health Centre; helped start the Safer Stroll Project, a peer-based program that aims to create a safer environment for women in the sex trade; educated other social service organizations about the stigma frequently experienced by sex workers; and worked with the Toronto Police Service’s sex crimes unit.
Babcock also testified in the court challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws put forward by Alan Young, an Osgoode professor and lawyer.
MacVicar says she encouraged Babcock to go to law school because she was “a powerful advocate.” She believes Babcock wanted to become a lawyer so she could advocate for marginalized people.
“I think of the one brilliant legacies that she’s given us is the opportunity for so many of those people to be able to see themselves differently because of her example,” says MacVicar. “She inspired people to get into peer work, to think about themselves in a different light, and recognize possibilities.”
Marty Thompson, a former crack cocaine addict, attended recovery meetings that Babcock and others led at Street Health. He says Babcock inspired him to go to college. “I was 47 years old and I didn’t know what to do with my life. Wendy was one of those people who said, ‘Marty, you can do it.’”
Thompson continues: “These people like Wendy, these people are those grassroots, frontline people who have been there and did it. . . . Wendy was a person who believed in me more than I was believing in myself. . . . She was an encouragement to everybody.”
The Toronto Star reported that Babcock was found dead in her apartment on Aug. 9. A police spokesperson told the Star that foul play wasn’t suspected and that she had struggled with mental-health issues.