27 07 2009

Here’s what I learned:

  • facebook groups are a great way of building and extending social networks, generating discussion, etc…especially for a controversial topic like ours. It also made advertising our event a lot easier. We now have 205 members in our facebook group and 49 posts (all generated within 2 weeks!)
  • after interviewing students during our first promotional event for the cell phone initiative, people generally haven’t thought of this social issue. Most people do not know what a survival sex worker is. One student commented: “…it’s because these women are not viewed as important…society doesn’t talk about them so much.” Most students were very willing to sign their name in support of a harm reduction like ours. After learning more about the social issue, people seem to be very willing to help. -We got some good and bad feedback for our solution. Most people felt it was a good start and will help a few people. It’s not a very transformative solution however and there are a few challenges to tackle when it comes to cell phones.
  • I learned that local nonprofits, outreach services, the VPD, the community police…were all very willing to help! Aside from one organization that never got back to my email. We spoke to someone at rogers wireless about our program and he directed us to a member in the hasting community police who then directed me to a member in the VPD who gave me a lot of feedback and recommendations on our initiative which was great!
  • I also learned that because this is a sensitive and emotional topic…it’s easy to offend people or be offended. People will criticize your moral stance or twist what you say to strengthen their argument…and it’s important to not take the issue too personally. We want to generate discussion and get ideas rather than to argue whether prostitution is right or wrong but people easily stray to that path. this is what I can think of so far =) will add more later if I come up with more.

some things to think about

23 07 2009

I got in contact with a member from the VPD who has experience w0rking with sex workers in the DTES.   Since a similar cell phone program has been done in the past, she brought up some challenges they’ve had to deal with and some things we should think about:

  • how to maintain a charged phone since many of these women are homeless or are very transient in their residency –> to address this, we have approached WISH drop-in centre to offer a place for these workers to charge their phones
  • some instances, phones were sold, lost or thrown away which would cause an environmental disservice

We hope to make these donated cell phones available to survival street workers in desperate need of a way to access help when they are in danger and a worker who would appreciate this tool.  Does this mean we should be screening the individuals we’re meaning to help?  We cannot control the worker from selling their cell phones.  If they do sell the phones, perhaps it’s because  don’t see the value in owning one.  Another problem is…would it put them at greater risk of robbery being seen with an electronic?


21 07 2009

By Susan Naomi Davis

In the BCCEC report, “From the Curb” Sex workers who participated listed the following acts as violence;
Physically being beaten, raped or assaulted by dates, pimps and drugs dealers
Being ignored, belittled, humiliated, sworn at, shunned by police and public for being a “dirty ho, crack whore, or slut”
Having items thrown at them from vehicles- (very common)

Sex workers commented that even children threw garbage at them. People in cars throw beer bottles, pennies, pop and hot coffee. One respondent lost part of her ear due to an assault by a non sex working woman in which the woman threw a beer bottle at her while she was working on the street. Sex workers in our consultation described the pain of being “beaten down by words”. Experiences of robbery were also very prevalent amongst respondents. Workers felt they were more at risk after they had made some money.

Their words;

  • “Any type of mistreatment is violence because people don’t care what happens to our kind.”
  • “Being looked at like you’re less” “Saying no to allowing us use of their phone or washroom- it leaves us depending on dates and other people who like to harm us.”
  • “Being mistreated by the public”
  • “People laugh at me”
  • It’s like they take this beautiful thing we have… the ability to give love, and they destroy it.”
  • “Johns demean you like you are merely flesh that doesn’t deserve respect like anyone else”
  • “It’s dangerous out there, especially recently with incidents of getting stripped, ripped off, pushed out of the car naked and hit.”

Sex workers described violence as activities ranging from public humiliation and social exclusion to more extreme incidents of beatings, sodomy, rape, extreme violence and the abduction and murder of their friends.

Overwhelmingly sex workers agreed that violence against our community should be considered a hate crime. They also noted that doing so puts their violent experiences into a deeper context. They expressed that violence against our population is done with “specific intent to cause harm” due their social identity and compounded by their sheer accessibility.

First of 69 missing women portraits unveiled by Vancouver artist

20 07 2009


Pamela Masik is an artist in Vancouver that began a art project since 2006 in memory of  sex trade workers who have gone missing or found dead in the downtown east side.   She painted massive portraits of these women for her four year long project and announced last month that she plans to create an art program for women at the Union Gospel Mission.

The Vancouver Sun first chronicled Masik’s “Forgotten Faces” project when she started it in 2006. She has completed 59 of the portraits, and said she is finalizing plans for all 69 to be displayed “at a major public institution,” likely in 2011.

A recent article with updates on the project states:

The first of 69 portraits by artist Pamela Masik was unveiled Tuesday at a press conference in Gastown, revealing a starkly life-like image of Mona Wilson, who disappeared in November 2001 at the age of 26.

Wilson’s remains were later found on the Port Coquitlam farm of Robert (Willie) Pickton, who has been convicted in her murder.

Below Wilson’s piercing dark eyes and high cheek bones are slash marks in the canvas and newspaper articles woven into the texture of the 2.4-metre wide and three-metre tall (eight-by-10 feet) artwork.

The knife wounds represent the fate Wilson met at the hands of her killer, Masik said; the newspaper clippings indicate her story became a very public one, only after society collectively shrugged when the women first started disappearing.

They were real people, just like you and me. It’s a tragedy that so many women can go missing and be murdered,” Masik said. “Everyone deserves a dignified life.”


These are not women we should forget because they are also someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s mother.  They are like anyone of us.  They deserved to be rememebered.

Proposed solution: bringing light to the sex industry

11 07 2009

Social Value Proposition:  to destigmatize sex work by providing a forum (i.e. magazine) for the diverse voices of individuals working in the sex industry.

Our proposed solution is a magazine to create a space for sex workers to speak for themselves.  This idea came from a magazine published in New York in 2004 – $PREAD magazine.

This magazine’s editorial mission is “to publish any perspective about the sex industry as long as it is the view of a current or former sex worker.  This is a forum for sex workers to write articles, submit photographs, and create art without censorship or the threat of moral backlash.”

We feel that a magazine like this is transferable solution to address violence against sex trade workers in Vancouver.

This magazine speaks to the general public as a way to:

  • promote protection of sex workers
  • generate buzz and awareness – make the invisible social problem visible (i.e. violence against sex workers is a real problem)
  • de-stigmatize sex work
  • make this an open problem to educate the general public
  • address health issues involved
  • engage and empower sex workers in a meaningful and on-going project
  • eliminate violence against sex workers

This magazine publishes feature-length articles with a focus on personal experiences and political insights and provide practical information like news, health reports, and resources. Original illustrated artwork by sex workers as well as photo essays illuminate all aspects of the sex industry from an insider’s/first-person’s perspective.

Target Audience

  • young adults
  • women
  • clients (men engaged in purchasing sex)


  • All over Vancouver particularly transit locations
  • Newspaper stands
  • Universities (e.g. Women’s Centre)
  • Community centres
  • WISH drop-in centre

Funding & Capital


  • Volunteers (for staffing photographers, artists, writers, promotion)
  • Partnerships with P.A.C.E, WISH, educational institutes (i.e. SFU Women’s Centre)
  • Engage and involve former or current sex workers
  • Support of subscribers, contributors, and donors


  • Subscribers and donors (e-donors)
  • Advertisements* in the magazine
  • Sponsors from businesses for distribution, marketing or monetary donations

*Sex workers are one of the few consumer markets with a significant disposable income (non-survival type) that remains untapped by most advertisers.


  • buzz marketing
  • Online marketing (e.g. facebook, twitter, forums, blogging)
  • word-of-mouth
  • maximize exposure = distribute free copies on busy streets such as Robson Street, or at universities and high schools

Sex sells right?  The topic itself should generate much public interest so buzz marketing and word-of-mouth can effectively advertise this magazine.

Sex workers in the midst of constitutional lawsuits

11 07 2009

Sex workers in Vancouver are challenging Canada’s solicitation laws in different ways but with a common desire—to work and live with greater dignity.

On October 6, 2009, the Ontario Superior Court is scheduled to hear what’s become of this on-going constitutional challenge that has the aim to strike down three sections of the Criminal Code. These include:

  • prohibitions on keeping a bawdy house,
  • living on the avails of prostitution, and
  • communicating for the purposes of prostitution.

According to Alan Young who’s leading the challenge there: “Bringing this case is of utmost importance because, despite the fact that prostitution is a legal occupation, the current Criminal Code provisions operate to deny sex workers safe legal options for conducting their legal business. Ultimately this fight is destined to go all the way to the Supreme Court.”

The objective is not legalization rather decriminalization. Decriminalization is commonly confused with legalization, but there are key differences. Legalization is viewed as a potentially overbearing state overseeing and regulating sex workers. While decriminalization would simply remove specific sections of the criminal code from the law books.

The bottom line is that sex workers and their advocates want to ensure that sex workers are no longer a segregated labour class having to work under inhumane conditions and on the wrong side of the law.

Credits & article by: Diane Walsh.  Read more here

The Red Light District

8 07 2009

Survival/street/outdoor sex workers are most vulnerable to violence.  I’ve mentioned already in the entry about prostitution displacement that these workers are pushed to abandoned, deserted areas that makes them more proned to violence.   These women work in isolated, dangerous environments that have insufficient or no lighting.  It’s not the inherent flaw of the sex trade industry that breeds violence but how the industry is organized in Vancouver’s DTES.  The lack of regulation means a lost of accountability and a system that is dysfunctional.  The leads us to the direction of comparing the business model of sex trade in Vancouver and the business models of this trade in other areas (e.g. Amsterdam).

In the Netherlands, prostitution is legal.  In Amsterdam, prostitution is concentrated in the Red Light District where it has enjoyed a long tradition of tolerance.

(source: http://www.amsterdam.info/prostitution/)

Prostitution is legal in the Netherlands since 1830. Until 1980 there was a law  forbidding taking profit from prostitution. This was the law against people exploiting working girls. In practice the law has been rarely applied and prostitutes were actually not protected. In 1988, prostitution has been recognized as a legal profession. The new law introduced in October 2000 clearly makes prostitution legal, subjecting it to the municipal regulations about the location, organization and the practice of business. The authorities try to regulate prostitution, aiming at protecting minors, eliminating forced prostitution and combating the new phenomena of human trafficking. Any sex business must obtain from a municipality a license, certifying that it has fulfilled the legal requirements to operate.

Monitoring the regulations
The police, urban district council and municipal health authorities are the main bodies responsible for enforcing the existing laws. Police controls sex establishments, to verify that minors or illegal aliens are not working as prostitutes. Infringements such as the presence of illegal prostitutes or employment of the minors may be the reason for the business closure. In 2007 the municipality of Amsterdam withdrew the licenses to as many as 30 different sex businesses, accusing them of breaking the existing laws.

The Dutch believe that banning existing social phenomena makes them more difficult to control, and therefore more difficult to eliminate the gravest criminal behavior as trafficking with women, their exploitation and prostitution of minors. Dutch administration makes a big effort to fight all these criminal activities.

Health care and support
The city health services inform the prostitutes about a free or low -cost clinic for sexually transmitted diseases, provide free or low cost medical car. A number of or organizations, some of them established by the prostitutes themselves (often still active as working girls), as the support group The Red Thread (Dutch: De Rode Draad) and the Prostitution Information Center (Prostitutie Informatie Centrum), try to help prostitutes with their problems. Foundations AMOC and Rainbow (Regenboog) are helping the prostitutes with drug problems.

So why are Europeans seemingly more tolerant than North Americans are of the sex trade?  The argument to decriminalize sex trade is similar to legalizing drugs. If the sex trade industry in Vancouver were regulated, we wouldn’t have street sex workers in dangerous and isolated areas.  If there are employment laws and health and safety regulations to protect construction workers (or any other dangerous occupations), why shouldn’t sex workers despite the nature of their “job”?  They deserve just as much protection as any other worker in any occupation. Violence surged when theses workers were moved to the DTES and industrialized, rural areas.  By creating a safer work environment, even adding more lighting to streets can make a difference.

More on prostitution laws & facts : http://www.newint.org/issue252/facts.htm