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 :


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