Our Friday at Burnaby campus

26 07 2009

I’ve learned a few lessons too. Following our Tuesday event, when we did our chalk outlines and collected signatures, to thank them who signed our petition for their support, while reminding those who gave us “yes”-es for having at least one spare cellphone, that we will be at Burnaby campus on Friday to collect them. The only person who replied me was so upset that I sent her the email, for breaching her privacy, and that I should take her off the list. Moral of the story: use that “Bcc” option! Apparently by doing that, nobody else who you’re sending your email to, can see the other email address. Oops, I’ve never used that option before, never needed to, and honestly, never knew what it was for. Moral of the story #2:  stop being ignorant and think of other people’s feelings about some random emails. So I’ve done that, when I sent out another email, thanking our supporters from our Friday event.

Second lesson: the bureaucracy thing, as Beatrice have mentioned in the previous post. On Tuesday, we got in trouble for drawing with chalks on the floor, which could’ve been easily cleaned up. And we were almost out of at least $38 if the person in charge had not let us get away with that once. On Friday, being a little bit more “prepared” than Tuesday, we still had a little mishap. Apparently there was another “complaint” for us being at the convo mall, but luckily and thanks to Beatrice, we were able to deal with it. Moral of the story: make sure you get all the licensing you need to do things like this at school.

Third lesson: people can be really egotistical. So you’ve read the story about the “trade” that someone attempted from Beatrice’s post. Two old phones for your newer one!!  Here’s another one: someone offered us $5 for a phone. And of course, we said no, explaining him that the phones were for donations. And he said, well the $5 was a donation, instead of a phone. And again, we had to politely say no to him, and he walked away. Moral of the story: many people don’t really care about what you’re doing, let alone why you’re doing it.

Despite all of the above, our Friday wasn’t so bad. We got a few more people attempting to donate their phones. And we did get more attention from the traffic, though it was a fairly slow Friday. The wind wasn’t helping either, making our giant paper bibs very wrinkled. Not only we had to hold a certain position, we looked dorkier than we thought! We got to bond with some classmates too! Yay! Moral of the story: we managed to have fun after all!


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“.
  • 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.


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” (ctv.ca). 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.

The business of sex and violence

10 07 2009

When we look at sex trade, we must admit, that it is a business. Whether it is organized or unorganized, from the streets or at higher-end places such as strip clubs or micro-brothels. From our interview with SFU’s own Chris Atchison, we’ve learned a lot about the business models.

On the streets, where survival sex trade workers are usually unorganized and work for their own,  business is simpler. Where there is a buyer, a seller, an agreeable price, sex trade will take place. Unfortunately though, street sex workers are more vulnerable to violence such as physical and verbal abuse, rape, robbery and even murder. Mainly because they sell sex on the streets. And they have little time to decide if it was safe or not to get into a client’s car. They only have little time too, to judge whether or not a client is safe to date.
A lot of times, violence against these women were induced by things as simple as a client refusing to wear a condom. And the chance of violence happening is that when a client take a sex worker to industrial area, where nobody is around.

On the higher levels, where the operations usually go under the radar, business is more complicated, even dysfunctional. With Canadian laws prohibiting brothels or “bawdy houses”, these operations are somewhat invisible. Operations such as escort services, massage parlours, and strip clubs often offer sex as part of the services. And they have legal business permits. Sex trade workers are more organized under these operations, in the sense they they work in a contained space, with people who decides which client to date or who can see a certain client. The other word: pimps. Some establishments though, run more loosely. Where the sex workers can choose whom to date or who is going to date a certain client.
Violence however, happens less in these businesses. Because of the contained space and the women have more time in judging whether or not a client is safe to date.
What makes the business complicated though, is the sex workers would have to pay a big cut to the business owners. Many of them are being economically exploited. And sometimes these women don’t even have access to their pay until a certain time. Then again, the sex trade workers are disadvantaged.

Some women though, are better-off from working through these kinds of businesses. High paying clients are not too difficult to find. And some micro-brothels, are well organized that they have sex workers who actually work by choice.

So can legalizing brothels actually be a good solution to reduce violence?

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.

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.