Submission to Vancouver City Council

On September 22, 2011, Vancouver City Council issued the report Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Protecting Vulnerable Adults & Neighbourhoods Affected by Sex Work: A Comprehensive Approach and Action Plan.

To download a copy of the city’s report, click here »

A number of people made presentations relevant to this to the Vancouver City Council, including EVA BC Executive Director Tracy Porteous. Following is a copy of her presentation:

Submission to Vancouver City Council on the Report “Preventing Sexual Exploitation and Protecting Vulnerable Adults & Neighbourhoods Affected by Sex Work: A Comprehensive Approach and Action Plan”.

September 22, 2011

Thank you to Mayor Robertson and the entire Council for providing this opportunity for so many of us who share your concern for women’s safety to speak to you tonight. Thank you to the people of the Coast Salish Nation for this land we stand on.
Before I begin, I wish to specifically acknowledge Ellen Woodsworth for her tireless work over many years to bring the voices of women, the LGBTQ2S community, Aboriginal women and other marginalized communities to the table. I wish too to acknowledge the Mayor’s leadership and staff behind this important report.

Never in the history of our city have we seen an Administration initiate so much focus, broad consultation and analysis in the area of sex work.

While many of Vancouver’s strong leaders in the sex industry and other allies in the movement to keep women safe – have been speaking to city council for many years, pushing council for reforms to increase safety, I wish to commend this administration for making this your issue – for making this our issue.

EVA BC, is a registered non-profit provincial umbrella organization, providing services in Vancouver and providing support, resource development and training for over 200 of BC’s anti violence programs. The programs under our umbrella work specifically to respond to and provide support for women and children who have experienced sexualized violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse and criminal harassment.

In the course of our work, most of our programs in Vancouver and across the entire province have identified that women who work in the sex trade are among those MOST vulnerable to violence, sexual assault, relationship violence and murder.

This of course is evidenced by the worst and most horrific woman-slaughter in the history of the world, that being the sexual violence murders committed by Pickton.

Violent, serious sexual predators prey upon those who will least likely report or be believed by the system. Many women have little trust of the system because throughout history and sadly to this day are treated without respect. This includes women overall but more specifically, Aboriginal women, immigrant women, women of colour, Trans women, women in the sex trade.

Women in the sex industry are those most at risk of being attacked, beaten, robbed, sexually assaulted and murdered by serious sexual predators. They are targeted in part because very few women doing this work seek support from or trust the system of responders. This lack of trust exists for very valid reasons.

Historically women in this work have been judged, ridiculed, discriminated against, disrespected and disbelieved; contended with threats to remove their children, their housing, their income assistance, their dignity; they are victimized and revictimized.

We applaud you for your attention to the need for training, as training needs to be done across all sectors. If we are to increase safety for women who work in this area, it is critical that the system of responders – all human service workers – including policy makers; be better educated so that they can learn to be more affective, less judgmental and be better allies. By doing this simple thing, ensuring those who respond are educated, I believe we will see more women living with increased safety.

I also think we will see more women reporting the atrocities committed against them to police, thereby increasing the likelihood of preventing other predators and other deaths of other women.

The work of PACE and the BC Coalition of Experiential Women are great examples. They have been developing top-notch analysis and training on these issues for many years. This work must be supported.

Also to be underscored and applauded are your intentions to support and stabilize the network of response services for women in the sex trade and for those who wish to exit.

Organizations like Wish and Pace, Vandu and the DTES Women’s Centre provide critical services to women who are most targeted, yet they struggle with the funds to do their great work.

That we saw the funding to the Wish Map Van cut, post Pickton, and PACE being faced with closing their doors, again and again since the tragedy of the murders of women in the DTES – this is unconscionable.

These services, supports, and interventions save lives and first on the agenda must be to ensure these services don’t have to keep using their valuable energy trying to maintain funding.

There are many other supportable ideas and initiatives in your report, like the critical importance of coordination across all sectors, the increased focus on supports to Aboriginal women and families, reviewing the city licensing program.

It is on this last point that I just wish to make a few closing comments because the city has a very direct role in whether women in the sex trade are kept safe or made more at risk.

We have very valuable historical research by Dr. John Lowman of SFU – and Dr. Becki Ross, at UBC that shows that in the late 1970s and early 1980s, city officials, embraced a single-issue agenda which was to purge on-street sex workers from the West End.

After the raid on the Penthouse Cabaret in 1975, indoor sex workers were pushed out onto the streets of the West End. The Davie Street stroll expanded, and became home to approximately 150 women, men, and male-to-female transsexuals who built an ‘outdoor brothel culture’ where they lived and worked.

Anti-prostitution advocates then lead a campaign to rid the neighborhood of on-street sex workers who they claimed were a public nuisance and a threat to property values.

In 1982, the Mayor introduced a ‘street activities by-law’, to give police sweeping powers to arrest and fine sex workers in the city, specifically in the West End, for on-street soliciting.

Until the by-law was declared unenforceable in 1983, a total of $28,000 was collected from sex workers. Sex workers called Mayor their pimp, as a result of his unsupportable and illegal collection of monies.

With journalists, the Mayor, the police force, members of the provincial legislature and Parliament, anti prostitution groups organized widespread support for the expulsion of sex workers without consulting sex workers themselves about what they needed or wanted.

Research by Lowman and Ross shows that on-street sex workers in the West End built a community. What Jamie Lee Hamilton calls an outdoor brothel culture of prostitution.

From the mid-1970s to the early 1980s, they instituted measures of risk assessment, safety planning, and harm reduction. They often worked in pairs, socialized & lived together, worked pimp-free, copied down car license plates, and contributed names to Bad Trick Sheets.

In 1984, after the injunction by the Attorney General of BC, and the final injunction leveled by Chief Justice Allan McEachern, the West End community of sex workers was demolished. They were prohibited from working in their own neighborhood, and pushed east of Granville, to Mount Pleasant, and then further east to what is known now as the killing fields.

So I say, bravo for this administration for listening to leaders like Jamie Lee Hamilton, Susan Davis, Raven Bowen, the BC Coalition of Experiential Women, FIRST and others.

I say thank you for taking the safety of women so seriously and for taking the risk to speak up for those who’s voices have not historically been found at decision-making tables and for listening to what women are saying.

These are deeply complex issues, so complex there are many divisions among those weighing in. Regardless of the lens we each come from, sex work is present, it happens every day in every community across the world. What joins us together, what we all have in common is the desire for women to be safe. This report extends the opportunities for this to happen.

Respectfully submitted by Tracy Porteous, Ending Violence Association of BC