Even the great Jason Fielding-Tweedie has learned a thing or two..

26 07 2009

It’s really been an amazing experience during the course of this entire project. I think I may have learned things about life and society that most people don’t usually ever get to take away from their typical university educations – probably their life experiences as well.

From the very beginning of this project we were feeling around in the dark for ways to tackle this social problem. Initially we dove into it with very giddy-headed ideals that we wanted to accomplish about our particular social problem. We had all these high-flying goals: lobbying businesses, starting magazines and who knows what else. We were quickly brought down to earth with sharp although very insightful feedback – courtesy of Professor Graham Dover and guests! If there’s anything we learned from those intial stages in our planning, it was practicality. I am very thankful for that.

We learned a few other really valuable things from that:

-for one, you need to really narrow down the audience of people you’re trying to help, if you’re operating at a small-scale level to begin with (and if you ever want to be able to actually implement your solution)

– you need to make sure your solution also has positive effects on the rest of society by helping this one small group of people.

Next was the actual implementation phase of the plan. It’s funny how as a group, because we each share a similar concern (ie: preserving human dignity of survival sex trade workers, keeping them safe) we managed to communicate that to each other easily and work very effectively around our differences of moral opinion and generally not step on each other’s toes. However, when we opened up discussion to the rest of the public, a lot of people failed to see the mandate of our project and get caught up in the morality of the industry. This was a very very big frustration for us because we initially didn’t intend for a moral debate on something so irrelevant to what we were actually trying to do. It was a very frustrating time trying to repeatedly make clear our mandate to others regarding our topic. At times it seemed that no matter what we were saying about being morally neutral on the topic of the sex trade, but rather being concerned about the safety and dignity of survival sex trade workers, people just refused to see it and threw it back in our faces. Not fun, but I’d say we did learn a lot about public relations and the way the public eye actually works.

A few more miscellaneous but practical things we did learn were:

– never underestimate the presence of beurocracy. Its presence is very real. But also don’t be discouraged. Plan for it well in advance, and work around it.

– Never underestimate human stupidity. After inquiring about what we were trying to do, somebody tried to persuade me to exchange a phone that we collected for two of his old phones, justifying it by saying we would be acquiring 1 extra phone. This gentleman simply missed the point of what we were trying to do.

– Never underestimate human love. We talked to a variety of people. Never before had I imagined seeing so many students from diverse backgrounds and areas of study who (after understanding fully what we were trying to do) were willing to give us their old cell phones, as opposed to say trying to sell them instead for personal gain. Yes, appealing to the human heart is a very effective way to get them to support your charity, but this only speaks well for humanity. Very beautiful to see. Makes me want to start a “free hugs for everyone” rally.

I think above all though I really learned how to aspire, no matter what. Now more than ever I really believe that where there’s a will there’s a way, as long as our intentions are oriented to the good.


Jackie Chan and Brand Equity for Survival Sex Trade Workers????

13 07 2009

So I spent all night trying to come up with a way to brand survival sex trade workers in such a way that they become ‘celebrities’ of sorts, thus attracting much attention from the public towards helping them.

I found some interesting stuff on an academic blog that a professor was saying about branding people (http://www.marketingprofs.com/ea/qst_question.asp?qstID=1996):

” Branding is about creating a personality so why can’t people be branded? People have a personality. To me why not? Actors control how people view themselves through the projects they undertake and also the products they endorse so if you can control this you can brand an individual.”

“I absolutely concur that people can be branded – and I think this would be an excellent dissertation topic. Think of the traditional positioning process: SEGEMENTATION + DIFFERENTIATION = POSITIONING…and then think of the branding process, which take into account values and beliefs and projects a specific personality. Some of the most successful celebrities and newscasters are masters at branding – and yes – for many this is done in conjunction with an agent, publicist, or PR agency. Their branding is manifested in the media projects they choose, the charities they help, and the publicity they allow around their leisure and provate lives. Here – in my opinion – is an example of two distinct brands that are both action adventure “heros”: Steven Seagal and Jackie Chan. Look at their differences as brands. Look at the different target segment, differentiaion, positionioning, values, and beliefs. Look at what they choose to publicize about themselves. Most interestingly – look at the evolution of Jackie Chan’s brand imagery over the years.”

What struck me in particular about all that was the bit about looking at what Jackie Chan and Steven Seagal **choose** to publicize about themselves. What does the survival sex trade demographic choose to publicize about themselves? Nothing really, besides what society chooses to publicize about them – and that is the image of them being untouchables.

I’m thinking that if we could JUST get at least an entire month of TV news headlines focusing on *SURVIVAL* sex trade workers being touched by charitable giving or being reunited with families, or being warmly received by the businesses (an idea i described in a previous blog post), we would be able to create some brand equity around the survival sex trade workers. Besides that, according to Chris Atchinson, only around 7% of sex trade workers in the DTES are survival sex trade workers.  I’d imagine it wouldn’t be that hard then, to try and get many of thos faces recognized on TV? I’m willing to bet that not only the police would start paying more attention to them if they were victims of violence, but if we could market them as people with REAL skills or people who are more than capable of learning to work at a local store, we may just be able to keep them safe and get them out of the sex trade altogether.

These are the kinds of images I’d like to see on the TV (you know, images that pull the heart strings a little)

picture the soldier as a VPD constable, and the person he’s hugging as a (you guessed it) survival sex trade worker..

Try and picture a mum being reunited with her kids

and here, people helping and caring for these workers…


Brand Equity & Sex Trade Workers

12 07 2009

I was just reading up on the ideas of the past two posts and realized something. In business, every marketing campaign has to have a brand. Why not brand survival sex trade workers and position them not only as people with dignity, and people who don’t really have a choice of being there, as well as people who need our help with getting them out of there. What I’d really like to see is branding them not as untouchables but real people with real issues.

We could do the same with the main demographic of survival sex trade workers: aboriginal women. It’s time to get them recognized in society.

How exactly are we going to do this? well, perhaps one has to think about this in a different light: how did it suddenly become so cool for a disadvantaged demographic to be from a New York ghetto and being able to rap? How did Apple revamp its image? how are hollywood celebrities marketed successfully?????

Lobby the Damn Businesses!

11 07 2009

I’m thinking lobbying politicians to devoting their time to changing the legislation around prostitution would be enough, seeing that they have an undeniable interest in being voted back in office, and given the public’s general unaccepting perception of sex trade workers.

What if we could lobby businesses near the downtown core where it is much better lit and safer to provide a safe pit stop for sex trade workers? This is what I’m thinking here:

1) launch a campaign to local businesses to arouse support for helping to support survival sex trade workers, create awareness AND get them off the streets

2) ask these businesses (i’m guessing it would be easier to get privately owned businesses that are usually open late such as pizza parlours) to place a sticker outside their window that states survival sex trade workers are especially welcome to come in late at night to warm up and have a free slice of pizza/cup of coffee/what have you. This way, it would show that these businesses do realize there is an issue of safety and that they want to help. note that i envision this as much like the rainbow sticker campaign for the homosexual community in vancouver, except much much bigger.

3) each of these businesses would get copies of the magazine (which Helen proposed in an earlier post) to distribute to all customers in whichever way they like to try and arouse support or get people to pay some attention to the issue

4) this is purely optional but if the business owners/managers were really passionate about the issue, we would encourage them to offer these sex trade workers jobs or at least some skills training that is particular to the industry the business is in. it wouldn’t be a workshop-type deal but more of a job shadowing thing.

5) lobby the vancouver police to allocate more patrol cars initially to the areas where these businesses operate at night in order to both guarantee the businesses safety in case they’re skeptical, AND ensure the sex trade workers aren’t being followed into those neighbourhoods. It would be easier to lobby the police at this point seeing that they would be more interested in serving and protecting the local businesses at least if not the sex trade workers themselves.

My colleague Chitra wisely pointed out that the general public would have a problem with these sex trade workers using the washrooms, etc, thus affecting business negatively and acting as a disincentive for businesses to actually choose to implement this program. I would argue that the publicity these businesses would get (which would be created by us in the form of viral marketing and writing to newspapers) because of the novelty of the solution, perhaps it would help to stimulate their business volume during daytime peak hours. perhaps i’m just being overly optimistic at this point, but if we could successfully brand and market the survival sex trade demographic in this way, more and more politicians would take notice, thus making it easier to advocate to them about the regulatory environment around which the survival sex trade is conducted.

Rich White Folk, Aboriginals and Stigma

8 07 2009

As you have seen us blog and deliberate over solutions for the past week, I’ve been able to draw conclusions about the approaches we should be trying to fight violence towards survival sex trade workers.

One approach would be to try and offer the workers protection against this violence. This is obviously the most short-term approach to a solution we can take without proposing something that will merely serve as a band aid without tackling a more fundamental problem.

Another approach – and very much on the opposite side of the spectrum – would be to radically change the industry, or perhas eliminate it altogether. While this may seem too ideal, it is possible for it to be done with the active support of politicians and the public.

The most attractive approach to us however, is a mix between the two, whereby we would try to offer protection to these sex trade workers, help them get out of the trade, and at the same time try and give the industry an overhaul so that the people who don’t want to be there don’t have to.

However, we recognize that in order to do any real, lasting good to the survival sex trade, we would have to transform the prevailing stigmas against the people in the trade first.

SFU Sociology’s own Chris Atchinson revealed to us that the prevailing demographic of survival sex trade workers consisted of First Nations women. These women come from perhaps the most disadvantaged ethnic background and class in our society. It is no wonder why the public chooses to ignore their personal issues, their addiction problems, and whatever else have you. If we were to make a comparison to, say, rich, white, upper echelon pill-poppers and alcoholics residing in the British properties we wouldn’t see much a difference (besides perhaps their substance abuse of choice). And heaven forbid one of us SFU students were go missing, yet who cares about the aboriginal women in the downtown east side when they are subjected to violence or go missing? Could it really be because ‘they’re only Indians anyway’??

Yes, the choice was made to go into the survival sex trade, but because that was the only option available to them as people from a disadvantaged background that hasn’t allowed them to attain access to proper education, etc… Moreover, many of these people are dealing with addictions (very much like the pill popping, alcoholic, rich white women in the British properties), which worsens the problem.

Long story short, stigma is a very pressing issue that needs to be addressed if we are to make any sort of dent at all in this problem.

The Winter Olympics-Prostitution Myth

5 07 2009

Thanks to some media sources, there seems to be growing murmur of concerned voices around the sex trade in Vancouver during the 2010 Winter Olympics. People are starting to anticipate a boom in the trafficking of sex trade workers into Vancouver.

Of course, if one were to take a closer look at the facts, they would see this as useless babble being perpetuated by the media.

According to this article, a study was done for police and community groups that concluded otherwise. In addition, similar predictions were mad around the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany turned out to be wrong (It’s interesting to note that the anticipated surge of sex trade workers into the area failed because many human traffickers aren’t willing to make that huge of an investment for relatively short events. But that’s straying a little off topic).

The people that conducted the study warned that the increased level of security around the Winter Olympics would cause problems for street-level sex trade workers by driving them into other areas where they are more susceptible to be subjected to violence.

A group of sex trade workers have been lobbying  heavily for a few years for a brothel to be opened up to provide a safe place for sex trade workers in Vancouver during the games. It’s too bad that current legislation does not permit brothels..

Sue Davis, the person organizing the lobby for this brothel also envisions commercial enterprises being developed to help longtime prostitutes find other work as an alternative to the sex trade.  A lot of the women out there do have skills that they can use out of the sex trade. For example, Sue Davis does consulting by speaking to Vancouver Police officers about dealing with street prostitutes. She envisions other sex trade workers doing presentations to raise money for her

She has voluntarily spoken to many Vancouver police officers at police headquarters about how to deal with street prostitutes and has been paid $150 an hour to make similar presentations to other groups to raise funds for the West Coast Co-operative of Sex Industry Professionals, a group launched by a consulting business (http://forums.castanet.net/viewtopic.php?f=26&t=16711).

This shows that we can and should start being creative with our solutions to ending violence against sex trade workers. People are people, no matter what they do, and they deserve safe environments in which to carry out their daily lives.