Short term vs. long term plans

18 07 2009

Short term: We need safety measures immediately.

  • Restore MAP van.
  • Provide cell phones for the women on the streets so they can call 911 if they are in trouble or see someone else in need of help.
  • Provide more funding so that shelters can be open longer and serve more individuals.

Long term: We need to remove stigma and the barriers to obtaining “legitimate” employment.

  • One of the barriers is not having a fixed address. Fix the current housing situation so that more people have access to adequate housing.
  • Remove stigma – we need a long-running campaign to persuade people to change their minds about the sex trade. These workers are not throwaways – they are someone’s daughter, mother, aunt, girlfriend, best friend, grandmother….
  • Increase communications initiatives between bands and First Nations women who have left their communities. Currently, women do not “call home” because there is stigma around leaving home and not returning as a “successful” individual.
  • Expand on projects such as the Aboriginal Mother Centre. This centre provides a safe place for women to gather with their children, an early education program for young children and a program is being developed for exit strategies to help sex trade workers get off the street. There are also 16 beds available as “transitional supportive housing“.
    mothercentre
  • Increase the education levels of Aboriginal students so that if they choose to leave their communities, they are well equipped for mainstream Canadian society.
  • Develop new strategies for “harm reduction”, “prevention”  and “treatment” from the Four Pillars Drug Strategy. Drug addiction and prostitution often go hand in hand.

With our limited time and resources, we have decided to concentrate on implementing short term strategies to help ensure the safety of women who are in street-level sex trade. The strategy we are planning to embark on is the idea of providing cell phones for the purpose of calling for help if it is needed.

As a society, we are responsible for the well-being of our most vulnerable citizens. If someone wants to leave “the life”, they should have the tools needed to do so. If they don’t, then their work environment should be as safe as that of any Canadian worker. This is a matter of human rights.

sex-workers-rights





Rich White Folk, Aboriginals and Stigma

8 07 2009

As you have seen us blog and deliberate over solutions for the past week, I’ve been able to draw conclusions about the approaches we should be trying to fight violence towards survival sex trade workers.

One approach would be to try and offer the workers protection against this violence. This is obviously the most short-term approach to a solution we can take without proposing something that will merely serve as a band aid without tackling a more fundamental problem.

Another approach – and very much on the opposite side of the spectrum – would be to radically change the industry, or perhas eliminate it altogether. While this may seem too ideal, it is possible for it to be done with the active support of politicians and the public.

The most attractive approach to us however, is a mix between the two, whereby we would try to offer protection to these sex trade workers, help them get out of the trade, and at the same time try and give the industry an overhaul so that the people who don’t want to be there don’t have to.

However, we recognize that in order to do any real, lasting good to the survival sex trade, we would have to transform the prevailing stigmas against the people in the trade first.

SFU Sociology’s own Chris Atchinson revealed to us that the prevailing demographic of survival sex trade workers consisted of First Nations women. These women come from perhaps the most disadvantaged ethnic background and class in our society. It is no wonder why the public chooses to ignore their personal issues, their addiction problems, and whatever else have you. If we were to make a comparison to, say, rich, white, upper echelon pill-poppers and alcoholics residing in the British properties we wouldn’t see much a difference (besides perhaps their substance abuse of choice). And heaven forbid one of us SFU students were go missing, yet who cares about the aboriginal women in the downtown east side when they are subjected to violence or go missing? Could it really be because ‘they’re only Indians anyway’??

Yes, the choice was made to go into the survival sex trade, but because that was the only option available to them as people from a disadvantaged background that hasn’t allowed them to attain access to proper education, etc… Moreover, many of these people are dealing with addictions (very much like the pill popping, alcoholic, rich white women in the British properties), which worsens the problem.

Long story short, stigma is a very pressing issue that needs to be addressed if we are to make any sort of dent at all in this problem.





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.

cell_phones

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?

barnardos_prostitution.preview

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.