The costs of emergency calls..

20 07 2009

iphone-unlocking-activationy-w-50504-3From the few solutions that we proposed, we’ve chosen to provide cellphones for sex trade workers, so that they can call 911 if they ever gotten into dangerous situations. And we’ve planned to collect used phones as part of the pilot program. So that we can donate them to organizations that can help us with the program. Now the decision has been made, off we went to find information.

Some time last week, I dropped by some cellphone service providers in the mall to find out what our options are. I thought, a 911 calls only should not cost too much, given they charge me 50 cents every month for what they call “911 Emergency Access Fee”, thought I don’t know what that means. Shouldn’t we all be able to call 911 no matter what, despite locations or a given time of the day, unless the phone is out of battery? Anyway, it costs me 50 cents a month to call 911, maybe it’s a little different for everyone, depending on what providers they are on.

Provider #1: I went to Bell asking about “emergency only phone plans”. Their cheapest plan starts at $15 a month, before taxes.  No system access fees and FREE 911 emergency calling fees. You’ll get a free phone if you signed a  2-year contract. I explained to the representative, that I will not be needing any text messages, or even air time (that’s the minutes we use to make calls), only for 911 calls. And she suggested their Prepaid plan. The lowest plan offered was again $15, but I’ll have to pay for the phone, which costs $75. And the funds expire after 45 days, unless I keep topping it up. And due to the platform they use (CDMA), we can’t just use any phones and pop a SIM card in, we will need to get their phones or compatible phones from the same provider.

Provider #2: Rogers, same question. They use a different platform (GSM) from Bell, that allows us to be more flexible with the phones. We can get any phones that use SIM card, pop a SIM card in, and voila! you can make phone calls right away. It costs $40 for the SIM card and that’s not including any credit. And again, there’s an expiry period attach to it, unless you’re willing to pay for a $100 credit which will be good for a year.

Provider #3: I went to Koodo, another one with CDMA platform. The phone costs at least $75. No contract involved, the lowest monthly plan costs $15. And he said I’ll get FREE 911 calls included too.

Provider #4: Fido. Offers a $10/month prepaid plan if you set up an automatic top-up service, with the phone costs from $65. A 50 cents charge for 911 access fees will be deducted automatically every month.

So 911 calls aren’t free after all. With a cheaper service you’ll have to pay for it. Only with more expensive services you’ll get them for free.  But if compared to the price of lives that we can save, 50 cents is well worth it, isn’t it? And here’s our challenge: to raise money to get us started with the phone plans.


The little things…

8 07 2009

During our conversation with Chris Atchison, whose work has been the study of “buyers and sellers of sex within the domain of heterosexual prostitution“, we came across the topic of small measures that we can take to make sex trade workers less vulnerable to violence. After a little bit of research, it appears that the San Diego Police Department also agree…at least with some points. The following list is a combination of the points we discussed today along with a few other relevant points.

  • More public lighting – this creates a safer environment for everyone walking around or conducting business in the evening hours.
  • Use surveillance equipment in the most high-risk areas – while this action may anger the BC Civil Liberties Association, the risk of situational violence against sex-trade workers would be lowered and if there is still violence ocurring, the perpetrators would be caught on camera for prosecution.
  • Plant trees away from lights – ensuring that the lights are visible and unblocked allows the area to remain lit.
  • Establish paths in which there is high levels of traffic – roads and sidewalks may be altered to provide pedestrian traffic and help lower the instances of violence or step in to help or call for help.
  • Seek to develop a working relationship between sex trade workers and the police – at the moment, the relationship between these two groups appears to be antagonistic. If a sex trade worker feels uncomfortable reporting an incidence of violence to the police, as is the case currently, this problem of violence can not be resolved. At the same time, it is not only the job of the police to protect the safety of every citizen, a partnership can prove to be valuable as sex trade workers may be able to provide leads regarding crimes they have witnessed or heard about.

As I find out more about the simple steps we can take as a society to help preserve the safety of all our cititzens, I will add to this list by providing an update.

bright lights

Societal Perceptions and Removing the Stigma of Sex Work

7 07 2009

It seems like any progress that is made to make working conditions safer for street-level survival sex workers is met by protests. The funding for the Mobile Access Project is pulled, as reported in this post. The comments on news pages that described this story was inundated with viewer comments about how taxpayer dollars should not be spent on this project.

In 1998, just when the number of missing women was starting to reach phenomenal proportions, the idea of giving Vancouver prostitutes cell phones to call for help was raised. The cost of the proposed 100 phones was only $3000. These phones could only be used to call 911 and the users would not be able to conduct business over these phones. The plan was scrapped due to public outcry.


It’s difficult not to wonder if this idea would have saved the lives of the missing women. Though they say that life has no price tag, the result of this fiasco seems to indicate that the price of $30 to help secure the safety of each prostitute was too high. Similarly, the price of running the Mobile Access Project for one month was approximately $22083.  If this amount is divided amongst the 1500 prostitutes who use its service monthly, the price of providing some semblance of personal safety, community and protection of public health comes to $14.72 per prostitute.

What is wrong with our society that spending so little in an attempt to secure the safety of a marginalized group of women would result in such public self-righteousness and misplaced outrage? Has it not ocurred to our fellow BC residents that the woman standing on the street is someone’s daughter, mother, wife or sister? Or that her “chosen” profession may have “chosen” her?


Why shouldn’t her safety be a priority?

Perhaps in our journey to finding a solution for the prevention or mitigation of violence against sex workers should begin in the changing of public perceptions of sex work. One possible way to go about this is to advertise in Skytrain stations, Skytrains, busses and bus shelters.

canuck ad

According to TransLink, there were an estimated 284 534 000 boarded passengers of the Coast Mountain busses and Skytrain in 2008. Obviously, the numbers do not separate individuals who take multiple trips during the year and those who only took one trip. However, the number is still significant, as all passengers would have been exposed to advertising displayed in transit areas.

Naturally, the hypothetical ads on ending street worker violence or the human rights of sex trade workers would need to be logical, thought-provoking and tasteful. If we start the conversation between transit riders, workers around the “water coolers”, we may be able to begin the movement to turn the tide against stigmatism of sex trade workers.