Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Frances Bula

p. B1.

'Safe' zones suggested for sex workers

VANCOUVER | No-go areas also in coalition's plan of action

Creating Blockwatch-style "safe zones" for sex-trade workers and identifying safe shops and buildings with window stickers could help make sex-trade workers' lives safer, says a government-funded coalition of Vancouver community groups.

It's time to stop chasing sex-trade workers from one neighbourhood to another, says the coalition, which will make its pitch today as part of Mayor Sam Sullivan's efforts to tackle crime and public disorder.

Instead, say people from the Living in Community coalition, the city and its residents need to take a new "harm reduction" approach that gives sex-trade workers support, protection and services, while also working with them to reduce the negative impact their work has on the community.

That could mean safe zones but it would also mean having neighbourhoods work out agreements with sex-trade workers about "safety and respect guidelines" and no-go zones for their work, like parks and schools.

Living in Community, funded by $200,000 from the tri-government Vancouver Agreement, has brought together a broad coalition of business associations, sex-trade workers, community centres, police, and health and city officials. Some of its representatives will talk to the city's Four Pillars Coalition today about other draft recommendations they have come up with, which include:

  • Developing programs to prevent people from going into sex work and to help them get out.


p. B6.

Crackdowns didn't solve problem

  • Creating a citywide immediate-response team to deal with sex-work issues, instead of having police as the only resource.
  • Providing daily outreach services to sex workers.
  • Educating sex workers about their impact on communities.
  • Expanding current self-defence training to sex workers.
  • Sue Davis is an articulate spokeswoman for local sex-trade workers. MARK VAN MANEN/VANCOUVER SUN
    Sue Davis is an articulate spokeswoman for local sex-trade workers

    Patricia Barnes, the executive director of the Hastings North business improvement association, said her group got interested in trying a different approach after years of dealing with prostitution in the Powell Street light industrial area by calling police.

    Police would crack down and the problem would just move to Strathcona, then to Kingsway and then, as each neighbourhood mobilized to drive it out, back to Hastings North.

    "We finally said 'This isn't working. We're not helping anybody.'"

    Barnes said the coalition's draft recommendations, which will be discussed in neighbourhood dialogues at 11 community centres over the next two months, are likely to provoke an energetic debate.

    But, she said, the group is encouraged about what it is doing because it has brought such a diverse group of people to the table.

    "We're starting to understand the sex-worker perspective but they're starting to understand our perspective."

    That's due in part to the participation of people like Sue Davis, an articulate spokeswoman for sex-trade workers.

    Davis makes it clear that there will always be some people who will stay in sex work, no matter how many other opportunities they have, because it can provide a good financial return, flexibility, and a certain sense of reward in helping others. But she says there are women driven into it out of economic desperation who should get realistic about dealing with the rest in order to not force them into unsafe situations on the streets.

    "Sex workers are very targeted because they're such a micro-economy and everybody relies on their money," she said. "If you think about ways to make it easier for them to work indoors, you lessen the likelyhood of having a visible trade or of having them picked up and taken away by someone."

    Sullivan said he is willing to see the city do "whatever we can that's reasonable" to make the lives of sex-trade workers safer.

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    Created: October 6, 2006
    Last modified: October 6, 2006
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