Wednesday, February 26, 1997

Mike Bell
Staff writer

The Wrong kind of education

While politicians talk and police try to keep order on the streets, the kids of Macdonald Elementary are getting an education in the seedier side of life.

Kids and condoms don't mix. Neither do children and working prostitutes, used syringes or any of the other detritus associated with the sex trade. Unfortunately, for the kindergarten to grade 7 students at Macdonald Elementary, education in the 1900-block East Hastings Street also means learning about life's ugly side.

"Certainly we find needles and condoms on the grounds," admitted Carole Kaye, first-year principle of Macdonald. "Its not a daily thing, but it's constant and I expect to see more of that as the weather warms up." She says there "have times in previous years where people have been found on the grounds plying their trade," but said for now it's a fact of life for the five-to-12-year-olds at Macdonald.

"That's what our children have to see on the streets in the mornings when they walk to schools and we really are very very aware of that. We try to make the kids feel comfortable and wanted here and keep them away from all that as much as we can, but it's just so much in the face of our children.

"Somehow," she said, "everyone has got to work together to get it out of residential areas."

That's the reason Anna Terrana will hold her second forum on prostitution at the Kiwassa Neighbourhood House on Thursday, February 27 at 6:45 p.m.

"You keep coming up with ideas but there seems to be no consensus," said Terrana of the motivation behind the meeting. "It's really a difficult situation."

When asked, everyone agrees getting the sex trade out of residential neighbourhoods should be a priority. No child should ever have to come across the things kids at Macdonald Elementary see every day, but what is the solution? In Vancouver, banning the sex trade to industrial areas hasn't worked.

Police have quietly tolerated prostitutes who ply their trade in dark alleys and will continue to do so while putting the bite on those who carry out their black market sex business in neighbourhoods, parks and near community centres. With no official position on legalization, Vancouver police vice squad Insp. Ken Doern says the department will pursue convictions of pimps, johns (customers of prostitutes) and hookers who continue to work in residential areas.

"The solution is not just policing, it's a social issue," admitted Vancouver police Insp. Ken Doern, in charge of the vice squad. Handcuffed by shrinking resources, he says police will do what they can to keep sex sellers under cover. Police have implied a tolerance for those who work in the city's industrial areas, but Doern says cops will target pimps and johns in an effort to reduce demand, particularly on teen prostitutes.

"If we can reduce the number of customers out there it may help other care providers get people off the street.

"We're going after the men because we believe them to be the root cause of the problem. If you're a man coming to Vancouver to buy sex on the street, you could be talking to an undercover operator and you will go to jail. We want the message out -- there is no excuse."

Doern says a Statistics Canada study showing one in 20 women murdered in Canada between 1991 and 1995 were prostitutes is "too much" and hoped proposed changes in the Criminal Code -- including allowing officers to pose as minors selling sex, punishable by five years in prison -- will soon allow police to go after men who buy sex with even more zeal.

"Men are killing prostitutes in this country. You can't even tolerate one murder, but when you've got 63, that's too much."

The solution is simple says Simon Fraser University criminologist John Lowman. He says the tolerance already extended to prostitutes who work for the myriad escort agencies licensed by the city should be extended to independent contractors to work out of their homes.

"If they do something for prostitutes," Lowman said, "they might ironically help the neighbourhoods."

He says legalizing the communication between consenting adults for the purpose of buying or selling sex -- selling sex is legal in Canada, talking about it isn't -- would go a long way to getting most prostitutes off the streets.

"Why are they out there and not working for escort services?" he asked.

"Look in the Yellow Pages. Obviously we've got people working their homes and hotels without causing a nuisance. There's obviously a way to do it so they're not getting killed and aren't being nuisances.

"We have Vancouver city council refusing to countenance a safe stroll because they don't want to be seen to condone prostitution. Ironically, I think we'd do better vote-wise if they dealt with it. They've got all these moral pronouncements about street prostitution and what astonishing hypocrisy that these men can go to an escort service."

Lowman is also a board member of Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education (PACE). Founded to help get sex trade workers off the street, PACE board members have widely differing opinions on how to tackle Vancouver's prostitute problem. While Lowman favours legalization, Leonard Cler-Cunningham is pleased with Doern's assertion that police enforcement will target customers.

"We're pleased to see them go after johns. It takes two to prostitute," he said, angry that more than half of all charges laid in connection with prostitution are against the women involved in the transaction.

"Historically they've always busted the women, but they're getting raped and beaten with impunity (for the men.)" He says legalization "is not going to get them off the street," and called the round-table discussion "a way for the community to get together and find some social solutions to a social problem."

Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Services executive director John Turvey says round-table hearings are the best way to deal with problems like prostitution in residential areas.

"I think that these are great vehicles to get information out and for me to hear information from community members. It's a necessary thing and Anna Terrana's on the money for trying to organize a forum where people can go to get information.

A lot of people don't know for instance, that most of the workers on the street enter the sex trade as teens." He says concentrating on the problems that lead a teen to the street -- sexual abuse, exposure to drugs at a young age -- could solve the problem of prostitution before it ever comes to corner near you.

Neighbourhood residents tired of talk

At least one person isn't so happy about Anna Terrana's round-table on prostitution this week.

Cindy Piper of the Hastings East Neighbourhood Action Group (HENAG) says the Vancouver East M.P. is playing the prostitution game for political points and is not interested in the plight of area residents.

The police they're not going to prosecute the prostitutes because they're victims but they forget that we're victims too. We live in it, we are the ones who raise our families here.

-- Cindy Piper

"Anna does not know we exist," said an angry Piper who counts about 50 core supporters in HENAG. "This is just a forum and nothing will happen. There will again be more discussion and regurgitation of fact and talk and talk and talk and not one person at that forum will go back and have it at their front door. They all have their agendas but we have to live in it. Obviously they are not interested in this neighbourhood. It's just another time-consuming meeting with no results for the people who live here."

She's says talking about the problem does little to solve it and got angry at Terrana's last forum, after which Piper noted with no surprise that little has been done to reduce prostitution in her neighbourhood north of East Hastings Street and east of Victoria Drive, known as the kiddy stroll for the numbers of youth prostitutes who work there.

"That was a waste of my time. I spent a whole bunch time listening to a whole bunch of facts and nothing about the community. I got so mad at her -- she's done nothing about this since she was elected." Piper fumed, angered at provincial and municipal politicians and police who do nothing about prostitution other than allow it to shuffle from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. She watched them come after Mount Pleasant's successful campaign five years ago and fears her home has become an area where hookers will be tolerated.

"It's destroying the fabric of our community. I think they have designated the district as a red light district and they don't want to do anything about it. We want zero tolerance. We want them to enforce the laws and do what they can to clean up the area."

Piper says the political climate that focuses on the customers and pimps leaves out the residents under siege in areas where hookers conduct their business.

"The police they're not going to prosecute the prostitutes because they're victims but they forget that we're victims too. We live in it, we work in it, we are the ones who raise our families here. We're the ones picking condoms off our doorsteps and needles out of our landscaping, our children are being accosted. Who cares about us?"

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Created: April 9, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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