VANCOUVER, BC: Vancouver has seen it's share of violence against sex workers.
The Case of the Missing Women and it's horrific details put a spotlight on how NIMBYism and lack of concern for the lives and safety of Vancouver sex workers lead ultimately to their torture and murder.
Contributing factors identified through the Missing Women's Commission of Inquiry, the City of Vancouver Task Force and a city wide project known as “Living in Community” showed that there were many actions which could have prevented the disaster and that could prevent it from happening again.
Recent revelations about yet another unfolding disaster in rural communities in British Columbia and murders of sex workers in places where enforcement is high, have reminded us all how enforcement, uninformed actions and stigma can isolate sex workers and make them vulnerable to violence.
In Vancouver, all citizens were impacted by the terrible outcome of targeted enforcement and lack of understanding issues facing sex workers.
No matter a persons perspective on sex work, everyone agrees that the violence and vulnerability caused by the actions of the past are unacceptable.
A culture of change was created by the tragedy and indeed remains the legacy of the women who died.
Increasing understanding of the mistakes of the past and the violent impacts of taking action based on moral or ideological assumptions about sex workers and their lives has changed the way sex work is viewed and monitored in Vancouver.
The Vancouver Police created a “Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines” Policy http://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/reports-policies/sex-enforcement-guidelines.pdf and clearly stated that adult consensual sex work would no longer be a priority.
Instead of blanket targeted actions against all sex industry participants, exploitation would be their only focus and of course investigating crimes against sex workers.
Training about the policy has ensured that police officers know and understand the position of the VPD and what is expected of them in terms of fair and unbiased treatment of sex workers during interactions with police.
The VPD also strengthened the Sex Industry Liaison Officer position, currently held by Linda Malcolm. Linda's role has been critical to increasing the trust between sex workers and police in Vancouver.
She has consistently made herself available when sex workers are in need of help and provides a non judgmental link to the police and reporting those who commit crimes against us.
The City of Vancouver also adopted a policy of non enforcement through their “Sex Work Response Guidelines” http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/sex-work-response-guidelines.pdf which states explicitly that sex work is not a by-law violation.
Training for licensing and inspections staff has ensured that staff understand the spirit of protection in the policy and what is expected of city staff should they have cause to interact with a sex industry worker or businesses.
The net result of all of these things which includes a lot more than described here, has been defacto decriminalization of sex work in the City of Vancouver.
Even before the policies were made official, steps were being taken to change the culture of policing and enforcement against the sex industry in Vancouver.
Criminalization of sex work has been the largest contributing factor to violence faced by sex workers and needed to change.
“How is it working?” you might ask....
We are happy to report that these actions have made a prolific difference and that not only are crimes against sex workers being reported more often and true exploitation being countered with several exploiters being investigated and prosecuted successfully but that.....
There have been no murders of sex workers as a result of their work in Vancouver since 2009.
We would like to congratulate the Vancouver Police and City of Vancouver Staff for having courage in the face of opposition to these actions from those who feel the sex industry could never be safe and who for moral or ideological reasons promote the “abolition” of the sex trade.
This past decade has proven without a doubt that decriminalization of sex work does make sex workers safer and is truly the only solution to ending exploitation and violence in the sex industry.
As the federal Liberal and NDP parties debate whether to support decriminalization of sex work, it is our hope that Vancouver can be held up as an example of how communities can address these issues in a way which respects all people's rights and safety.
Vancouver is success of decriminalization in a Canadian context. Both sex workers and communities are safer now.
It seems that other police services are also paying attention as the VPD style of "lowest level of enforcement" has been adopted across the entire BC Region by 45 Police services and the E- Division of the RCMP.
It is becoming clear to everyone that there is only one path forward to achieve safety for sex working people.
It is time for reason to prevail.
It is time to decriminalize sex work in Canada.
(Please contact us if you are a sex worker or client in BC who is experiencing police harassment under the current Federal Legislation against the newly adopted province-wide guidelines.)
About the Author
Susan is a 32 year sex working veteran and 16 years sex workers rights advocate. She has worked with government and police towards safer communities for sex working people.
She has appeared in the media over 400 times and has given evidence or testified to 2 Supreme Court cases, the Commission of Inquiry on missing and murdered women, the City of Vancouver Task Force and the Parliamentary Sub Committee on prostitution.
She continues to work towards safety and equality for sex workers in Canada via complaints to the office of the commissioner of lobbyists and has submitted many briefs to government committees working on these issues.
As an extension of her “flesh trade work," Susan also owns a small meat market with her partner in Vancouver where she continues to work as a sex worker upstairs where she lives.
Calabria Meat Market has been a 7 year passion for Susan and she enjoys supporting small local growers and promoting sustainable food security.