What did Beatrice learn?

25 07 2009

So throughout this project, what have I learned? In random order:

  • It is important to designate someone or several members to be in charge of communications – getting permission for things, dealing with fall out, etc. This frees up the other members to do the things such as actually putting on an event.
  • Nothing is as simple as it seems – things that shouldn’t take very long, probably will.
  • Never underestimate the ability of bureaucracy to slow down your progress. If you want things to go smoothly, go through all the proper channels and have the proper paperwork.
  • People will complain about students peacefully gathering in a common space at a university at which they have spent tens of thousands of dollars in tuition, fees, books, etc.
  • People can be exceptionally generous! Some donors donated multiple phones! =)
  • People can be really cheap and try to bargain with us in an attempt to obtain one of the newer-looking phones in our collection. =(
  • I was really naive at the beginning of our project. Our topic has some controversy and our project has offended some people…which I didn’t think would happen.
  • Facebook is a great way to get the conversation started!
  • People working in the industry think that our idea will actually help.

That’s all I can think of for now. I’ll add more when I think of new points. Thank you everyone for contributing to our project and our learning process! Overall, it’s been a fantastic experience.


Happy Discovery + Facebook

21 07 2009

Come find us on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#/group.php?gid=131418130341

FB screenshot

Happy discovery:  Even though the phones don’t have any money on them and are no longer on a plan, they can still dial 911 in an emergency for “free”. This makes it so much easier on our finances side!

Lessons learned

21 07 2009


Today was an interesting day. We collected a few phones and talked with students and staff while collecting signatures. We did learn a few lessons regarding how to go about our business on campus that in my last 5 years at SFU, I did not know about…

I was a bit naive and did not realize how much bureaucracy was present that would slow down our progress for doing our work. However, now that that is over, we can move on with our project and collect as many phones as our greedy little hands can handle.

I talked with Susan Davis on yesterday and she mentioned a great project that is being undertaken with support of the Vancouver Police Department. This project is tentatively called the Community Policing Partnership Car. This car(s) will have one officer and one current/former sex trade worker and they will answer calls for help from sex trade workers. Susan mentioned that one of the biggest obstacles in getting help for workers in need of it is a distrust for the police or fear that they will be judged. Hopefully, this initiative will make workers who need help feel safer and supported.

This project can also have the added affect of detering predation of women working in the DTES. People who target these women no doubt count on their distrust of the police and what is seen as police indifference.

The good news is we have support for our idea from individuals from WISH, individuals at the VPD, and almost everyone we have spoken to who can be thought of as stakeholders in this issue. Even students at SFU seem generally supportive of our mission.

It feels good to know that we are on the right track.











Short term vs. long term plans

18 07 2009

Short term: We need safety measures immediately.

  • Restore MAP van.
  • Provide cell phones for the women on the streets so they can call 911 if they are in trouble or see someone else in need of help.
  • Provide more funding so that shelters can be open longer and serve more individuals.

Long term: We need to remove stigma and the barriers to obtaining “legitimate” employment.

  • One of the barriers is not having a fixed address. Fix the current housing situation so that more people have access to adequate housing.
  • Remove stigma – we need a long-running campaign to persuade people to change their minds about the sex trade. These workers are not throwaways – they are someone’s daughter, mother, aunt, girlfriend, best friend, grandmother….
  • Increase communications initiatives between bands and First Nations women who have left their communities. Currently, women do not “call home” because there is stigma around leaving home and not returning as a “successful” individual.
  • Expand on projects such as the Aboriginal Mother Centre. This centre provides a safe place for women to gather with their children, an early education program for young children and a program is being developed for exit strategies to help sex trade workers get off the street. There are also 16 beds available as “transitional supportive housing“.
  • Increase the education levels of Aboriginal students so that if they choose to leave their communities, they are well equipped for mainstream Canadian society.
  • Develop new strategies for “harm reduction”, “prevention”  and “treatment” from the Four Pillars Drug Strategy. Drug addiction and prostitution often go hand in hand.

With our limited time and resources, we have decided to concentrate on implementing short term strategies to help ensure the safety of women who are in street-level sex trade. The strategy we are planning to embark on is the idea of providing cell phones for the purpose of calling for help if it is needed.

As a society, we are responsible for the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens. If someone wants to leave “the life”, they should have the tools needed to do so. If they don’t, then their work environment should be as safe as that of any Canadian worker. This is a matter of human rights.


Our First Nations Sisters

18 07 2009

I met with Mark Selman on Thursday and we had a great conversation about First Nations communities and why there were so many Aboriginal women in the Downtown Eastside. Mark is the program chair of the Learning Strategies Group and has a special interest in First Nations issues.

Often, Aboriginal women who are in troubled situations with their families or are pregnant feel compelled to leave their small communities on reserves. Once they have left, where do they go? As with most people leaving small communities, the push is to head towards the cities. In BC, the main “big city” is Vancouver.

Once in Vancouver, they are cut off from their support networks and there is an abundance of drugs and alcohol. For women escaping situations that have brought pain into their lives, these substances bring a certain relief. Their pain is especially poignant when one realizes that many of these women who were pregnant upon arriving in Vancouver have had their children seized by the ministry.

If you give birth in a BC hospital and you are unable to provide a fixed address or prove that you are able to care for the child, social services is contacted and the child is removed. While these actions may be well-intentioned, there is no denying that it leaves the mothers as worse off as they originally were with the ADDED BURDEN of the knowledge that their child was ripped from their arms moments after delivery.

Added to these issues is the fact that many of these women have insufficient levels of education and skills that are deemed unmarketable by society. Their teachers expected them to fail in school, and often, that was indeed the end result.

Eventually, these factors add to a desperate situation in which the women need to eat and they need to feed a newly developed addiction.  Obviously, when one has no other real choice, one does what one must. The reality is, if I was ever in this situation – sell sex or starve, I would make the same choice as many of these women.


Teenage prostitution on the North Shore

10 07 2009

There is more evidence that no one is fully immune to the affects of the sex trade. No community can safely declare that they are not touched by prostitution or the violence that sometimes accompanies the sex trade.

A few days ago, the North Shore Outlook published an article about under-aged prostitution. According to this article and I am sure that our readers who are familiar with North Shore communities would concur, “The North Shore is so shiny and squeaky clean.”

North Shore

The article goes on to state that these girls (in this case, they are mainly teenage girls) were in relationships with young males who supplied them with drugs, expensive gifts and alcohol. Once, the young women were addicted, they needed a way to pay for their new dependency.

The article also mentioned that there were some initiatives that these communities are looking into to curb teenage prostitution and encourage the maintenance of safety among these girls. The points in the following list could be used in some communities to prevent or delay entry into the sex trade by teens.

  • Arrange for counseling (through Hollyburn Family Services or another accredited counseling center) teens already involved in the sex trade who have addictions and family problems.
  • Form partnerships between the RCMP and schools to develop education plans that reach students from kindergarten to grade 12.
  • Seminars and support groups directed by Children of the Street and SAFETEEN outreach workers can be held for high schools. These programs would need to remove the morality question and concentrate on myth-busting and safety. Otherwise, teens may find the seminars “preachy” and refuse to participate.
  • Start conversations between students, parents and educators (as a result of these programs).
  • Open more drug treatment facilities for youth. Teenage prostitution is often a way to pay for a new habit. If drugs were taken out of the question, former addicts would be able to choose more freely if they want to be in the sex trade.

It was also mentioned that these teens could easily end up on the DTES as this area is a “a dumping ground for a lot of women from other communities”. To abolish violence in the sex trade and provide more choices to youth so that if they do become  a sex trade worker, it is a more open choice, our education system needs to be addressed. Our teens need to know how to stay safe and what their rights are. They also need to know that there are alternative options to the sex trade and that there are programs to help wean them of their addictions, if that is their goal.


These programs, if administered properly, will provide young teens with more choices and more information. If they are still wanting to enter the sex trade, it will be a freer choice and one that is not coerced by a violent pimp or an illegal drug.

The effectiveness of the proposed solutions is yet unknown. The rate of education reform on this topic is very slow as it is a touchy topic with many parents and communities. There is also a sense of “that sort of thing does not happen here”. On a side note, because it DOES happen “here”, we must be even more vigilant on the eradication of violence against sex trade workers. An often overlooked but obvious fact is that these women are our daughters, sisters, friends, wives, mothers and aunts.

Does anyone care?

9 07 2009

Following Jason’s post on the “fate” of Aboriginal women, there are some questions that need to be asked.

Why are Aboriginal women disproportionately represented in street-level sex work? Why are they “over-represented for both HIV/AIDS“? When Aboriginal women living on the streets go missing, why don’t the police and society react as quickly?

This inaction is especially absurd when compared to rescue of a UBC student who went missing…in this case, 200 officers were assigned and $1.2 million was spent. In contrast, a $100000 reward was posted to secure the locations of 31 women, after much controversy. There was a suggestion of $100000 for the safe return for EACH woman, but apparently, society found that absurd.This reward is still less, per missing individual, than the “usual reward of a single homicide” which is $10000. By my math, the reward should have been $310000 as most of these women were already presumed dead.

Missing Women

To put this into context, the same week that this reward is put out after the long-time disappearances of these women, a $100000 reward was offered after one week of suburban robberies.

A reporter of the Vancouver Courier commented that the heated discussions for the missing women reward were happening as the cell phone plan ($3000 for 100 “safety” cell phones) had been struck down as a waste of taxpayer money. He then wrote, “It seems these women are worth far more to us dead than alive.”

While I do not wish to trivialize his ordeal – no one should ever have to go through what he did, the kidnap victim (who lived in the “wealthy Southlands area of Vancouver”) was found within 8 days. In comparison, some of the missing women from the DTES had been missing for 9 years. Not even their bodies have been recovered.

According to Vancouver’s Missing Women, 71 women are still listed as missing, many of whom were/are of First Nations descent.

Does anyone care?