First of 69 missing women portraits unveiled by Vancouver artist

20 07 2009


Pamela Masik is an artist in Vancouver that began a art project since 2006 in memory of  sex trade workers who have gone missing or found dead in the downtown east side.   She painted massive portraits of these women for her four year long project and announced last month that she plans to create an art program for women at the Union Gospel Mission.

The Vancouver Sun first chronicled Masik’s “Forgotten Faces” project when she started it in 2006. She has completed 59 of the portraits, and said she is finalizing plans for all 69 to be displayed “at a major public institution,” likely in 2011.

A recent article with updates on the project states:

The first of 69 portraits by artist Pamela Masik was unveiled Tuesday at a press conference in Gastown, revealing a starkly life-like image of Mona Wilson, who disappeared in November 2001 at the age of 26.

Wilson’s remains were later found on the Port Coquitlam farm of Robert (Willie) Pickton, who has been convicted in her murder.

Below Wilson’s piercing dark eyes and high cheek bones are slash marks in the canvas and newspaper articles woven into the texture of the 2.4-metre wide and three-metre tall (eight-by-10 feet) artwork.

The knife wounds represent the fate Wilson met at the hands of her killer, Masik said; the newspaper clippings indicate her story became a very public one, only after society collectively shrugged when the women first started disappearing.

They were real people, just like you and me. It’s a tragedy that so many women can go missing and be murdered,” Masik said. “Everyone deserves a dignified life.”


These are not women we should forget because they are also someone’s daughter, someone’s sister, someone’s mother.  They are like anyone of us.  They deserved to be rememebered.


A need for legislation change

12 07 2009

26victimsI’m pretty sure you are familiar with the image on the left. If you weren’t then maybe you’ll recall the name Robert Pickton.
They are the women whom Robert Pickton was charged of murdering. Many people believe after the conviction of Robert Pickton, something would change. Many people believe that something would have been done to protect the sex trade workers, mainly in the downtown Eastside.

Unfortunately, not much has been done. “According to police reports submitted to Statistics Canada, there were 171 sex trade workers were killed between the year of 1991 and 2004, and 45% of the homicides remain unsolved” ( How many were unaccounted for? How many were unreported?

Unfortunately for these women, and other sex trade workers in Canada, the Canadian legal system offers no protection for these women at all. Under the Canadian law, prostitution itself is not illegal, but the activities related to it are. Individuals who were found to sell sex can be charged under the Criminal Code. And it only puts these women in more danger. Reporting bad dates may lead to arrests and imprisonment, therefore many violence victims have chosen to stay silent.

“The lack of legal protection and non-recognition of the work of sex workers is leading to violence and marginalization”. A statement by Jenn Clamen, coordinator of Stella, a Montreal-based support and information group by and for sex workers. I couldn’t agree more. Decriminalizing prostitution will provide more protection for these women. Violence victims will be able to make reports without being treated like criminals. And this has been a continuing struggle for years. Take a look at this article too.

Whom we need to treat like criminals are the violent clients and the predators. Not these women, for trying to survive or to make ends meet. Instead, we need to protect them. They are no different from us. They are our fellow human beings. In fact, they are just like us. They are someone’s daughter, someone’s mother, someone’s sister, someone important to someone else.

Pro- vs. Anti-Prostitution

3 07 2009

Before trying to dive into the search for innovative solutions to mitigate the problem of violence against sex trade workers, I’d like to comment on the controversy that surrounds the topic of prostitution.

woman on street

In my research on the topic of violence against sex trade workers, I have come across different points of view on this topic. At one end, there is the religious right, for which prostitution is immoral, perpetrators should be punished, women who have fallen off the path of purity should be reformed, etc. On the other end, there are sex-positive feminists who, as one would expect, denounce the exploitation of women but accept that the choice to enter the sex trade belongs to the individual and that sometimes, due to barriers to employment, there really is no other “choice”.

A surprising find was that of feminists on the far edges of the left who believe that anyone working in prostitution is automatically a victim. In her 2004 paper ““RESCUED FOR THEIR OWN GOOD”: THE REALITY OF PROSTITUTION LAW ENFORCEMENT AND THE ABUSE OF PROSTITUTES BY THOSE PAID TO PROTECT THEM“, Norma Jean Almodovar talks about how individuals who have seemingly made it their life’s work to “save” prostitutes have made the lives of these women much harder. The list of these individuals include the following:

From my readings, it seems that what these individuals had in common was the desire to save women from themselves or “for their own good”.

Though I felt that a brief background into the controversy was necessary, our blog is not here to make a judgement on survival sex trade workers. It is also not to say that they are victims who need to be saved. Our blog’s main message, though, is “Yes, prostitution exists and violence against prostitutes occurs far too often. This violence needs to be stopped“.

This situation is getting out of control and only came to light for the general public in Vancouver when Robert Pickton was arrested as a serial killer who preyed on women in the DTES. There have been disapearances since then but since the publicity associated with the trial is over, these women who have gone missing have become an afterthought. Again.

Mobile Access Project in Jeopardy

2 07 2009

The Mobile Access Project (MAP) is the result of the collaboration between the WISH Drop-In Centre and the PACE (Prostitutes Alternatives Counseling & Education) Society with funding from the province of British Columbia. MAP takes the form of a van that operates 7 days a week from 10:30pm until 5:30am (when all of the stores have closed) in the Downtown Eastside (DTES). This van is staffed by 3 women, at least one of whom have been a survival sex trade worker.


They pass out coffee, juice, water, condoms, clean needles and other supplies. Most importantly, they converse with sex trade workers and these workers know that there is someone who cares about their well-being.

In the WISH Drop-in Centre’s “Evaluation of the Mobile Access Project (MAP)” report written in 2006, MAP employees estimate that the van serves 1500 women a month and reaches the “most marginalized women in the DTES” .

  • Over 90% of sex trade workers said that the van’s presence made them feel “safer on the street”.
  • 16% remember a specific time when the van’s presence saved them from being physically assaulted.
  • 10% remember a specific time when the van’s presence saved them from being sexually assaulted.
  • 57% of sex trade workers report “bad dates” (clients who didn’t pay and/or assaulted the worker) which have been linked to Robert Pickton’s murder conviction.
  • 1200 used needles were collected per month
  • Predators who work in the DTES area know about the presence of the van and the support workers for the sex trade workers.

When the report was written, it was concluded that the MAP project had succeeded in its goal of harm reduction by reducing the number of sexually transmitted infections including HIV. The project has also allowed the most marginalized women in Vancouver to obtain help when they need it and know that someone will notice if they or another “regular” goes missing.

Though this project has helped reduce the number of health problems in the area, given the sex trade workers a sense of safety, deterred predators from abusing sex trade workers, led the resolution of violent crimes…the funding of this project is now under review.

On March 21, 2009, CTV reports that the annual cost of $265000 needed to pay the employees and provide supplies for the van may no longer be funded by the province. It was pointed out to the Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Housing and Social Development that the cities of Victoria, Calgary and Halifax have sister programs, to which the answer was “We’ll see.”

Due to this lack of funding, MAP ceased operations on June 12, 2009, according to a Vancouver Sun article written on June 4, 2009. In a city that can afford what some have called a “5 ring circus” or a “2 week party”, this is not good enough. We can not sacrifice the well-being of the most vulnerable sector of our society for any reason.