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.



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.

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.