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.


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 :

Support Services and Employment Programs

4 07 2009

Helping those who want to get out of sex work without stigmatizing those who want to stay means offering non-judgmental support services and employment programs.

It’s not easy to simply ask a sex worker to change their line of work.  You would think that creating job opportunities, retraining these workers for a different job can solve the problem.  It’s not that simple.  Once they enter the sex industry, it’s not easy to exit as you please.

“The weight of society saying prostitution should be  illegal and you’re dirty and awful and depraved and you’re going to get diseases and die it adds to people’s lack of self-worth and that’s really not going to help people.” (quote from former sex worker, Todd Klinck)

In addition to programs to get unwilling workers out of the sex trade it’s necessary to provide services to stop people from getting there in the first place.  Until poverty is eradicated we’re always going to have this situation arising. As a society, our decision is whether we choose to allow people to die or work with dignity and safety. Prostitution is not the issue. The issue is what got these women and kids on the street in the first case.  These things often get overlooked. The action that should be taken is to demand that politicians implement non-judgmental employment programs and support anti-poverty initiatives in general.

End The Violence

4 07 2009

Prostitutes are often blamed for the violence that is perpetrated against them. This is compounded by the fact that sex workers can be charged if they report having been assaulted or robbed while engaging in prostitution. With a woman working alone if she gets a bad client she’s terrified to report that to the police for fear that she’s the one that will be arrested and charged.  Many sex workers don’t report crimes against them for fear of being charged under laws that criminalize the business of prostitution.  Having sex for money in Canada isn’t illegal, nor is paying someone for sex yet there are laws that make it near impossible to engage in sex work both safely and legally.  Sex workers are caught in these terrible contradictions as a result of these laws.  There is the risk of facing persecution and violence.

“People realize the status quo is a complete failure and are looking for a different approach,” says NDP MP Libby Davies, “but you won’t get many elected representatives who want to take this on. It’s not seen as the most electable issue.”

Laws Surrounding Sex Work

While sex workers’ organizations across the country are campaigning to see sex work decriminalized, some states in the U.S. have gone the route of legalization instead. Legalizing sex work means instituting regulations that treat prostitution as a vice, as opposed to decriminalization which treats it like work. Under decriminalization sex workers are allowed all the labour-related rights and freedoms as any other worker. At present only New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia have decriminalized sex work.  “A decriminalization position emphasizes the labour rights, health and safety rights, and human rights of sex workers,” says York sociology professor Deborah Brock who has published extensively on sex work. “It recognizes their ability to implement standards for the self-regulation of their trade, including forming professional associations governed by codes of conduct, rights and responsibilities, and to form or join trade unions so that they may collectively bargain the conditions under which they are prepared to work.”  In other words it takes the stigma out of sex work.

Safe Houses in Vancouver

In Vancouver, at least one serial killer had been murdering sex workers unchallenged for so long, there are several initiatives underway to keep sex workers safe – initiatives that include selective policing.

Vancouver is setting up a safe house that would be run by sex workers themselves, comparing the project to marijuana compassion clubs or Vancouver’s safe injection site where police know it’s there but don’t rush in and shut it down because they see it as preferable. The would-be safe house, or cooperative brothel, is a project of Vancouver’s Prostitutes Alternatives Counselling and Education Society.

Vancouver is in a unique situation.  With the 2010 Olympics around the corner, there’s a lot of pressure for gentrification of the downtown east side. Cooperative brothels could work all over the country. There is also a push in Vancouver for a moratorium on charges related to the communicating law, which makes it illegal for sex workers or their clients to discuss a transaction in public.

Rethink Sex Work

No other woman has to worry about being charged for reporting a rape. In Toronto there is a way for sex workers to report crimes against them without being charged.  Since January 2007 the special victims section within the sex crimes unit has worked exclusively on assaults against sex workers.  The section has its own 24-hour number as well as an anonymous bad date hot line, which has seen 9 convictions so far. If we could get police services across this country to give more man power and resources and education, to invest and dedicate to these services against assault against sex workers we wouldn’t have to devote so much to homicide.

source: 8 ways to revolutionalize the sex industry

Prostitution Displacement

4 07 2009

What makes sex workers more vulnerable than the rest of us to violence and why are these cases under-reported? What…is the major cause for violence against sex workers? The answer? Prostitution displacement. Prostitutes are seen as a social problem and the public (residential groups) consequently seek to remove them from their neighbourhood.  NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) syndrome reflects a complex mixture of popular anxieties about prostitution which are connected to deep-rooted fears and fantasies about commercial sex-work. Legal and social processes combine to shape geographies of prostitution.  Essentially, displacement of prostitution serves to spatially marginalize sex workers without necessarilysolving any of the problems associated with commercial sex work.  According to sex trade liaison and 30 year Vancouver police officer, Dave Dickson, “Vancouver has a way higher and disportionate share of serial killing of prostitutes than other jurisdictions.

Marketing Consultant, Jamie Lee Hamilton commented on her blog some interesting facts about prostitution displacement in Vancouver:

Since 1985, when sex trade workers were pushed out of the West End as a result of a court-ordered blanket injunction, barring them from their homes and community, violence has increased. Previous to 1985 there was little or no violence reported of sex trade workers. This is not to say that sex workers didn’t encounter bad dates but murder was unheard of. Post 1985, Vancouver has seen an explosion in this type of violence.

The most rationale explanation of sex worker violence is the result of prostitution displacement. Vancouver police have tended to address the nuisance factor of prostitution by pushing sex trade workers into abandoned, deserted and dangerous industrial areas. These areas have created breeding grounds for victimization to occur. In fact, as we know from the Pickton situation, the Downtown Eastside (DTES) and Oldtown area became fertile grounds for predators to anonymously roam about.

Expo 86 also brought further displacement of sex workers and there was an unofficial VPD and government directive to move the sex trade north of Hastings into an abandoned area. Thus the setting for the DTES killing fields had been created.

In 2001, the number of missing women in the DTES for over two decades reaches 68. Many sex workers complained that the communicating law and the further displacement of sex workers contributes to these high numbers. Predators were very aware that sex workers did not report acts of violence due to admitting to breaking the communication law.

With the 2010 Olympics coming to town, further displacement of sex trade workers will happen. Many drug-addicted survival sex workers living in cheap rental apartments are being displaced from their homes as rental buildings convert to condos in time to cash in for the Olympics. There is also a plan underfoot to build high towers in the Oldtown area and these towers will create further sex worker displacement.

I recently read an interesting article regarding the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the the Police’s actions on what appears to be “social cleansing”.   The article mentions the threat of “embarassment” i.e. problems of poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution and so forth in Vancouver’s DTES.  How is the government or the police responding to these “threats”?  Read more  here