Vancouver groups trying to create transition program for sex workers

Several organizations in Vancouver are working together to create a means for sex workers to leave the profession if they want to.

“Because most sex workers don’t have pensions or robust savings plans, and some carry the burden of a damning criminal record, exiting for many is not straightforward,” said Becki Ross, a UBC professor in gender, race, social justice and sexuality.

The WISH Drop-in Society and Battered Women’s Support Services are among the organizations collaborating on a transition program. The groups took part in a consortium for sex workers who want to exit the sex industry. According to Kate Gibson, executive director of the WISH Drop-in Society, the various organizations provide some tools for individuals wishing to transition out of the sex economy.

“There isn’t anything dedicated specifically to that at the moment. That is why we got together to see if we could make something happen in a new way,” said Kate Gibson.

According to Angela Marie MacDougall, executive director of Battered Women’s Support Services, the groups provide assistance for migrant and immigrant workers as well as those with their own adult entertainment businesses.

“What we’ve wanted to do is to bring our knowledge, our skills, our understanding of this population and prepare and fill gaps in services that would provide options for those within sex work,” MacDougall said.

According to Gibson, there has not been an organization to take on the particular work since the closing of Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society (PEERS) in 2012. Historically, sex workers have had to do a lot of their own advocacy, according to Ross.

“For four decades across Canada and elsewhere, sex workers have organized their own support, service provisions, and advocacy groups,” said Ross. “Some have made a priority of service delivery concerning sex workers’ health and safety while others have emphasized support for sex workers who seek to transition out of the industry.”

The more the sex workers are pushed underground in society the less safe they become, according to Gibson.

“There are new laws in place that very much affect those that engage in sex work…. All kind of people criminalized because of the work they do,” Gibson said.

According to Ross, a federal mandate that seeks to abolish prostitution does not honour the diverse and complex needs of a diverse community of sex workers.

“Sex work activists argue that only broad-based ongoing consultation among those who live this experience will expose the limits of anti-prostitution legislation,” said Ross. “Any attention to transitioning programs must be accompanied by initiatives to enhance sex workers’ safety and well-being, on the terms that sex work professionals devise for themselves.”