Protesters will target prayer vigils
Mark Hasiuk, Vancouver Courier
Published: Wednesday, September 09, 2009
Name the greatest threat to Vancouver prostitutes toiling on street corners and in storefront brothels:
A) pimps B) abusive, disease-carrying johns C) an apathetic public D) the Salvation Army
According to Vancouver’s pro-prostitution lobby, the answer is D, the Salvation Army. Tell them what they’ve won, Regis.
The Salvation Army launched its local anti-human trafficking campaign last September after working on global sex trade issues for years. The charitable organization joins a growing movement of feminist and church groups who fear a spike in trafficking as the 2010 Winter Olympics draw near.
Human trafficking is among the world’s fastest growing criminal industries, rivalling the illegal arms industry and drug trade in scope and impact. According to the U.S. State Department, approximately 800,000 victims are trafficked annually across international borders. Victims include women and children from Asia, South America and Eastern Europe.
In Vancouver, where brothels bloom like dandelions in some neighbourhoods, the magnitude of the problem is unknown. Due to a lack of law enforcement, Vancouver’s sex trade industry–fuelled by domestic and international trafficking–remains a mystery.
Like most other anti-trafficking campaigns, the Salvation Army campaign targets the demand side of prostitution–pimps and johns. Last month the Salvation Army hung posters, depicting young women being beaten and abused, above urinals in downtown bars.
“This is a bold step for the Salvation Army,” says Brian Venables, a Salvation Army spokesperson and chief architect of the campaign. “We’ve stepped out of the shadows and said this isn’t going to happen anymore, and we’re going to do what we can to stop it.”
The pro-prostitution lobby is not amused.
The Salvation Army received several threatening emails about the campaign, but Venables says the criticism is misguided. “Our campaign is not against or about prostitution, it’s about people who are forced into sex slavery,” he says. “The issue is about those who don’t have a choice.”
But according to Susan Davis, a vocal member of Vancouver’s pro-prostitution lobby, anti-trafficking campaigns are dangerous. Such campaigns, she says, prompt law enforcement to raid massage parlours–which she describes as “safe work places”–and drive the industry underground.
However, according to the city’s licensing department, no massage parlours have been shut down this year.
Davis, a 41-year-old career prostitute, also claims that “Vancouver police are raiding Asian massage parlours” in a “racist and anti-immigrant” assault on the industry.
While the VPD cited “ongoing investigations,” no massage parlours have been raided this year.
In fact, more than 50 de facto brothels–officially known as health enhancement centres–operate in Vancouver. Countless other unlicensed establishments operate with tacit approval from city hall.
Davis also attacked UBC law professor Ben Perrin, Canada’s foremost expert on human trafficking. (The Salvation Army crafts its campaign on information complied by Perrin and others. The Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada and the U.S. State Department have confirmed Perrin’s findings.) Perrin, she says, uses “fear mongering” and “demonization” to promote his anti-trafficking agenda.
Perrin dismisses the attack, noting Davis unsuccessfully lobbied in 2007 for legalized brothels in Vancouver. “This a pro-brothel lobby group,” he says, “whose business is threatened by individuals who try to help people exit the sex trade and who try to confront exploitive pimps and traffickers.”
Davis plans to mobilize other pro-prostitution activists and protest the Salvation Army’s upcoming day of prayer, scheduled at churches and Salvation Army sites for Sept. 27.
She also targets Salvation Army volunteers who will visit Downtown Eastside street corners to pray for the anguished and abused. Davis plans to produce pamphlets warning street prostitutes about the Salvation Army threat. The pamphlets, she says, will be distributed by the publicly funded Mobile Access Project–also known as the MAP van. MAP van spokesperson Kate Gibson says she was unaware of Davis’s plans but didn’t rule out distributing the pamphlets.
“There’s potential for a violent clash between sex workers and Salvation Army people, who have no comprehension of the way that we live,” says Davis. “They assume we need rescue when in fact what we need is rights.”
Davis may not need rescue. The vocal members of Vancouver’s pro-prostitution lobby claim to live charmed lives.
But considering the widespread misery and abuse associated with the sex trade, her opposition to the Salvation Army campaign is desperate and her intentions are small.
Nevertheless, when she waves her placard in protest outside a Salvation Army church, she’ll be included in those prayers–whether she likes it or not.