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