Getting ready for 2010 Olympics?

10 07 2009

I’m sure you have noticed, with all the hype on the upcoming Olympics, Vancouver is busy. Constructions are happening everywhere, from apartment buildings to public transit facilities. Have you ever wondered though, with all these construction projects going on at once, where in the world these did these workers come from?

Apparently, we get a lot of foreign workers. A lot. According to this article, in mid 2008, there were 2,000 to 3,000 foreign workers and thousands more unaccounted for in BC alone. Legally or illegally, these people were being trafficked from Southern American region, particularly Mexico. And these people too, are prone to abuse. Abuse in a sense that they are being exploited and underpaid. Unfortunately for them, leaving a job to another is not that easy. The lengthy process of getting a new work permit has prevented them to even reporting the abuse.  Okay, back on track.

What I’m trying to say is, with the increasing number of foreign workers, there is an increase in demand for sexual services. And if I may quote “sex trade workers in Vancouver are busier than ever” (Chris Atchison). And the Olympics is not even here yet.
Given these foreign workers live all over Vancouver, there is likelihood that sex trade workers from downtown east side will be taken out of their “safety zone” even further. How about if they were taken on a date to an unfamiliar area, where there is only little lighting? Or an area where there is just no one around. Sex trade workers are even more susceptible to violence than ever.

Don’t forget about the “social cleansing” mentioned in a previous post. Cleaning up the streets mean that these sex trade workers have to, willing or unwillingly, go some place else. And then the question comes up again. Where can they go? Where should they go? What if every street in Vancouver is being cleaned from sex trade workers? Then these women must go where they are unseen and almost invisible. That means they have to go to dark streets, dark alleys, industrial areas, and everywhere else they can be less visible.

An alley on East Hastings. Is it a better place than the streets?

An alley on East Hastings. Is it a better place than the streets?

Many sex trade workers, interest groups and organizations have been pleading for decriminalization of prostitution and legalized brothels, which hopefully will increase safety for sex trade workers. However, the idea of having legalized brothels seem to be far-fetched. Disagreements come from many levels of society: Vancouverites, politicians, local government, and all the way up to federal government level. The idea of decriminalization too, received favourable and ufavourable responses. Some would agree that providing brothels mean providing a safer, controlled space for these women, where they can be much safer than being on the streets. But some would argue that brothels may induce more people to become prostitutes.
If these ideas are much opposed, what’s the better idea then?

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Does anyone care?

9 07 2009

Following Jason’s post on the “fate” of Aboriginal women, there are some questions that need to be asked.

Why are Aboriginal women disproportionately represented in street-level sex work? Why are they “over-represented for both HIV/AIDS“? When Aboriginal women living on the streets go missing, why don’t the police and society react as quickly?

This inaction is especially absurd when compared to rescue of a UBC student who went missing…in this case, 200 officers were assigned and $1.2 million was spent. In contrast, a $100000 reward was posted to secure the locations of 31 women, after much controversy. There was a suggestion of $100000 for the safe return for EACH woman, but apparently, society found that absurd.This reward is still less, per missing individual, than the “usual reward of a single homicide” which is $10000. By my math, the reward should have been $310000 as most of these women were already presumed dead.

Missing Women

To put this into context, the same week that this reward is put out after the long-time disappearances of these women, a $100000 reward was offered after one week of suburban robberies.

A reporter of the Vancouver Courier commented that the heated discussions for the missing women reward were happening as the cell phone plan ($3000 for 100 “safety” cell phones) had been struck down as a waste of taxpayer money. He then wrote, “It seems these women are worth far more to us dead than alive.”

While I do not wish to trivialize his ordeal – no one should ever have to go through what he did, the kidnap victim (who lived in the “wealthy Southlands area of Vancouver”) was found within 8 days. In comparison, some of the missing women from the DTES had been missing for 9 years. Not even their bodies have been recovered.

According to Vancouver’s Missing Women, 71 women are still listed as missing, many of whom were/are of First Nations descent.

Does anyone care?





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.

(source: http://www.amsterdam.info/prostitution/)

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 : http://www.newint.org/issue252/facts.htm





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.

SUN0603N-JLSmapvan.jpg

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.