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.



Education, education, education

13 07 2009

We’re proposing the following: early sex and health education at schools. Ensuring that young students understand the consequences of sex and health risks associated with it, when not done safely.
Students also need to be educated how to keep themselves safe and how to keep their friends safe. Especially for female students. In a way that, if they were approached by someone, who can potentially be predators, they know what to do. Or to reject any baits, that may drag them into prostitution.

Most importantly is scenario trainings. I think by providing real-experienced scenarios these students will have better understanding what has happened, what is happening and what can happen in the real world.
Followed with early drug education and how it ties with prostitution.

Another proposed solution is providing basic education and skill training for sex trade workers. We can lobby educational institutions to come up with programs that our cheaper and shorter, even if possible, free. And because Vancouver has many educational institutions, we can gather instructors from those institutions who are willing to be involved in the outreach program.
And we think the best locations for the programs to be held are our own SFU Harbour Center campus or Vancouver Public Library, as they are close enough and very accessible from the downtown Eastside. And of course, form alliances with PACE (Prostitution Alternatives Counseling & Education) Society as well as WISH Drop-In Center to advertise about the programs.

Any thoughts?

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.