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“.
    mothercentre
  • 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.

sex-workers-rights

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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.

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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?





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.