Our Friday at Burnaby campus

26 07 2009

I’ve learned a few lessons too. Following our Tuesday event, when we did our chalk outlines and collected signatures, to thank them who signed our petition for their support, while reminding those who gave us “yes”-es for having at least one spare cellphone, that we will be at Burnaby campus on Friday to collect them. The only person who replied me was so upset that I sent her the email, for breaching her privacy, and that I should take her off the list. Moral of the story: use that “Bcc” option! Apparently by doing that, nobody else who you’re sending your email to, can see the other email address. Oops, I’ve never used that option before, never needed to, and honestly, never knew what it was for. Moral of the story #2:  stop being ignorant and think of other people’s feelings about some random emails. So I’ve done that, when I sent out another email, thanking our supporters from our Friday event.

Second lesson: the bureaucracy thing, as Beatrice have mentioned in the previous post. On Tuesday, we got in trouble for drawing with chalks on the floor, which could’ve been easily cleaned up. And we were almost out of at least $38 if the person in charge had not let us get away with that once. On Friday, being a little bit more “prepared” than Tuesday, we still had a little mishap. Apparently there was another “complaint” for us being at the convo mall, but luckily and thanks to Beatrice, we were able to deal with it. Moral of the story: make sure you get all the licensing you need to do things like this at school.

Third lesson: people can be really egotistical. So you’ve read the story about the “trade” that someone attempted from Beatrice’s post. Two old phones for your newer one!!  Here’s another one: someone offered us $5 for a phone. And of course, we said no, explaining him that the phones were for donations. And he said, well the $5 was a donation, instead of a phone. And again, we had to politely say no to him, and he walked away. Moral of the story: many people don’t really care about what you’re doing, let alone why you’re doing it.

Despite all of the above, our Friday wasn’t so bad. We got a few more people attempting to donate their phones. And we did get more attention from the traffic, though it was a fairly slow Friday. The wind wasn’t helping either, making our giant paper bibs very wrinkled. Not only we had to hold a certain position, we looked dorkier than we thought! We got to bond with some classmates too! Yay! Moral of the story: we managed to have fun after all!


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.












20 07 2009

Following up our plan, we will be hosting a cell phone (and charger) collection and awareness event up at SFU Burnaby campus tomorrow. So if you have old, working cellphones, do bring them tomorrow, Tuesday, July 21st, from 8am – 1 pm. We’re also going to be at SFU convocation mall and around the bus loop, collecting (hopefully) more phones on Friday, July 24th. Time will be morning 9 am -ish to late afternoon.

We’ve also set up a facebook group. Please join and give us your input, comments, supports, anything at all.

DONATE A PHONE (with its charger). SAVE A LIFE.


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.


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?

Societal Perceptions and Removing the Stigma of Sex Work

7 07 2009

It seems like any progress that is made to make working conditions safer for street-level survival sex workers is met by protests. The funding for the Mobile Access Project is pulled, as reported in this post. The comments on news pages that described this story was inundated with viewer comments about how taxpayer dollars should not be spent on this project.

In 1998, just when the number of missing women was starting to reach phenomenal proportions, the idea of giving Vancouver prostitutes cell phones to call for help was raised. The cost of the proposed 100 phones was only $3000. These phones could only be used to call 911 and the users would not be able to conduct business over these phones. The plan was scrapped due to public outcry.


It’s difficult not to wonder if this idea would have saved the lives of the missing women. Though they say that life has no price tag, the result of this fiasco seems to indicate that the price of $30 to help secure the safety of each prostitute was too high. Similarly, the price of running the Mobile Access Project for one month was approximately $22083.  If this amount is divided amongst the 1500 prostitutes who use its service monthly, the price of providing some semblance of personal safety, community and protection of public health comes to $14.72 per prostitute.

What is wrong with our society that spending so little in an attempt to secure the safety of a marginalized group of women would result in such public self-righteousness and misplaced outrage? Has it not ocurred to our fellow BC residents that the woman standing on the street is someone’s daughter, mother, wife or sister? Or that her “chosen” profession may have “chosen” her?


Why shouldn’t her safety be a priority?

Perhaps in our journey to finding a solution for the prevention or mitigation of violence against sex workers should begin in the changing of public perceptions of sex work. One possible way to go about this is to advertise in Skytrain stations, Skytrains, busses and bus shelters.

canuck ad

According to TransLink, there were an estimated 284 534 000 boarded passengers of the Coast Mountain busses and Skytrain in 2008. Obviously, the numbers do not separate individuals who take multiple trips during the year and those who only took one trip. However, the number is still significant, as all passengers would have been exposed to advertising displayed in transit areas.

Naturally, the hypothetical ads on ending street worker violence or the human rights of sex trade workers would need to be logical, thought-provoking and tasteful. If we start the conversation between transit riders, workers around the “water coolers”, we may be able to begin the movement to turn the tide against stigmatism of sex trade workers.