Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Kerry Jang, Issues & Ideas
Vancouver taking comprehensive approach to sex trade issues
Vancouver has a long and painful history of sex workers, particularly women, being violently abused, exploited, and in the case of Pickton's victims, murdered. This Thursday, City Council will debate a report that charts a path forward that will help prevent youth from being recruited, better protect sex workers' health and safety, advocate for much-needed support systems to assist individuals to exit the sex trade, and work with neighbourhoods to address the negative impacts of sex work.
This complex public issue affects urban centres across the globe. Poverty, racism, inequality, and a lack of access to safe, stable housing are common issues. In Canada, communities have called for governments at all levels to do something; in the past, action has been sporadic and uncoordinated. Often times, new policies did little but push a problem from one neighbourhood to another, or drive sex work underground, forcing women and others into more risky situations where abuses can occur with impunity.
The report coming to Vancouver City Council on Thursday focuses on what specifically the City can do within the current federal legal context to address the range of issues, and what other levels of government can do. The overriding message of the report is that a comprehensive and coordinated approach among all levels of government, law enforcement agencies, communities and stakeholders is required.
Cities can play a key role in prevention by directly supporting and advocating for child care and after-school programs for children that build their resilience, and "buddy programs" that teach kids to recognize luring and Internet safety. My own daughter participated in such a program a few years ago and can now recognize and avoid pimps, dealers and manipulation.
We can support community safety by having front-line City staff disseminate information, as well as provide referrals to resources and supports. City community service grants can be targeted to the programs and outreach services, including exiting supports, run by non-profits.
The real power a municipal government has is land use and regulation. The council report highlights a need to review licensing and enforcement practices to enhance neighbourhood safety, the safety of sex workers, and to better target premises where there is a risk for trafficking and exploitation. We also need to improve information sharing between City inspectors, the Vancouver Police Department, senior governments and NGOs to improve information and referrals to available services, and allow for more immediate action on problem premises.
Some may argue that impacts from the sex trade and the prevention of sexual exploitation are not issues that a municipal government should be addressing. Not true. A city has the responsibility to do what it can to create safe and inclusive communities for all of our citizens.
Long-term success in addressing the negative impacts of the sex trade will require senior government action on poverty reduction, housing, and immigration. When partnerships between municipalities and senior levels of government are established, we can achieve real results. An example of this is on homelessness, where the City of Vancouver and the provincial government have partnered on new shelters and housing, resulting in a decrease of more than 600 homeless people on the streets of Vancouver since 2008.
There is no shortage of opinions on how, as a society, we should deal with these issues. That is why the council report represents a balanced approach. It focuses on what the City can do, advocates to senior governments to play their part, and does so in a way that helps our most vulnerable citizens through an emphasis on prevention, improved personal health and safety, support for exiting, and better enforcement where exploitation and trafficking exist.It is our hope that other municipalities and senior government partners will join us in our efforts.
Kerry Jang is a Vision Vancouver city councillor.
Created: September 21, 2011
Last modified: November 12, 2011
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