Monday, September 26, 2011

Daphne Bramham's Best Column Ever

Opinion: City plan does little to support those put at risk by prostitution

If nine out of 10 fishermen got hurt at work, policy-makers would likely question whether the job isn’t so inherently dangerous that even regulating the industry might never keep them safe. If four of every 10 nurses were violently attacked every year, regulation alone might not be the solution either.

Yet those are the statistics for street and indoor prostitution respectively, and still most policy-makers simply shrug.

In 2005, 90 per cent of street prostitutes in Vancouver had been physically assaulted, 78 per cent had been raped and 72 per cent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report in the peer-reviewed journal Transcultural Psychiatry.

Those working from home, in massage parlours or escort agencies fare better. Still, 37 per cent of them experienced some sort of violence, according to research done in 2007 by a graduate student at Simon Fraser University.

Citing municipalities’ limited powers over the Criminal Code, education, health and social services, Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson and all of the city’s councillors are the latest to shrug.

They passed a plan based on a 30-page staff report, which gave only a cursory nod to the 12-year-old Nordic model pioneered in Sweden, which outlaws all aspects of the sex trade but provides generous social supports to at-risk youth and women exiting prostitution.

They didn’t ask for more information about that model or anything else, even though the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network and others among the 50 speakers at a public hearing urged them to at least consider that prostitution is a form of violence against women that ought to be stopped, not regulated.

In the end, Robertson and the others (including Suzanne Anton, the NPA’s mayoral candidate in the November election) bought into the excuse given in the staff report. Municipalities can do nothing about criminal law and little about education, health and social services, it said.

Of course, council didn’t use that excuse when it came to endorsing safe-injection sites for illegal drugs.

They didn’t balk last year from endorsing Will to Intervene, an international report that recommended Canada and the United States take leadership roles in preventing mass atrocities.

Which is odd since some people consider that 720 missing or murdered aboriginal women in Canada or that more than 100 women missing and murdered from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are slow-moving forms of genocide.

This council approved the report’s sanitized language (sex work, not prostitution) and never asked why the report neglected to describe just what such work entails.

They didn’t want to hear it. When 19-year-old Rachelle Rovner tried to read a graphic and disturbing description of the services that a Vancouver man bragged online about having purchased, she was told to stop.

Children might be watching the proceedings on TV, Coun. Andrea Reimer told her.

Rovner shot back. “If it’s not appropriate for our city council, then maybe it’s not appropriate for our city.”

Nothing in the city’s plan even hints at trying to lessen demand for prostitution in any of its guises.

Educational programs aren’t aimed at the men who harm prostituted persons. The only recommended educational programs would be aimed at teaching children, vulnerable youth and women how to better identify pimps and predators.

“Stop putting the responsibility on us to survive,” Trisha Baptie, a former prostitute, urged council. “Instead of abandoning us in the name of safety, health and verbal nonsense, you need to identify the problem: Men can pay for access to women’s and children’s bodies.”

Council paid no attention.

Child prostitution was deliberately omitted from the report and recommendations. It’s “strictly prohibited,” the report’s author Mary Clare Zak said at the meeting.

Yet, she also referenced a report that found 37 per cent of youth living on Vancouver’s streets say they have exchanged sex for food or shelter.

Regulating where sexual services are delivered is part of the plan. The city’s licensing department is urged to contact other cities to see how their bylaws differentiate registered massage therapists from massage and health-enhancement businesses that front for prostitution

Renfrew-Collingwood will get improved street lighting under council’s plan. But whether it’s in a car or alley, brothel or home, prostitution will never be safe.

There are hopes for housing, detox and rehab for at-risk youth, prostitutes and those exiting prostitution. But there’s no money.

There’s also no direction to end the long-standing practice of concentrating those services in the Downtown Eastside.

Bureaucratic not brave, it’s hard to see how this plan will prevent anyone from entering prostitution or make it safer for anyone regardless of whether they’re providing sexual services by choice, coercion, or out of desperation.

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