Monday, March 10, 2008

Vancouver proposed brothel redux

(You can read my last post on the subject here.)

I will let the ex-prostitutes of Vancouver, who left me great comments that I want to highlight, speak for themselves. Starting with a letter from the parents of Marnie Frey, one of the women killed by Robert Pickton (serial killer of Dowtown Eastside prostitutes).

To Anyone Using Our Daughter's Legacy,

It has come to our attention that there is a group of people who wish to legalize prostitution and set up a brothel in Vancouver. As the parents of Marnie Frey, who was murdered by Robert "Willie" Pickton, we believe that both these ideas are very dangerous recommendations.

Our daughter was forced into prostitution because of the need to feed her addiction to drugs. To think of prostitution as a ‘job’ and treat it as such is ridiculous. I am disgusted to think that anyone would think that prostitution is a job. It is not.

It is violence against women.

Neither legalizing prostitution nor having a brothel would have prevented the murder of our daughter. The women of the Downtown Eastside need meaningful solutions to their addictions.

We tried on numerous occasions to have Marnie admitted to drug rehabilitation facilities, but found that to be very difficult because of the chronic lack of beds and funding for such places. When an addict reaches out for help, the resources should be available immediately. To think the best we can do for these women is giving them a safe place to sell their bodies is a joke. There is no such thing as a "clean safe place" to be abused in.

For a man to think he can buy a woman's body is insane, and should show us the attitudes that women have to fight against in society. Marnie did not choose prostitution; her addictions did, and any man who bought her body for their sexual pleasure should go to jail for exploiting her desperation.

What we need are facilities to get women off and away from drugs and keep other young girls from this horrible lifestyle by helping them when they are still young. Anything else would be a cop out and further fuel the abuse of women as playthings for men, who prey on sick, disadvantaged and hurting women.

My wife and I feel the legalization of prostitution and/or a brothel is not the answer. We ask that you IMMEDIATELY stop using the name and memory of our daughter to fight for a brothel or to legalize prostitution.

Marnie's name CAN be used to fight for more detox beds, more recovery beds, funding for long term counseling, making it illegal for men to buy the use of women's bodies and enforcing these laws. Her legacy CAN help in the fight towards women's equality, which cannot happen as long as we keep our women for sale.

We know we have a lot of support from other families of Pickton's victim's, in the community as well as across our Nation, who feel as we do. Prostitution in no way should be accepted as normal or legalized.

Yours truly,
Rick and Lynn Frey (Parents of Marnie Frey)

Statement by Ex-Prostitutes Against Legislated Sexual Servitude

We urge you to oppose any attempt to introduce a legal brothel in Vancouver.

As women who have been prostituted in Vancouver and in the light of these facts :

• That current discourse on prostitution would have the public believe that it is normal work that simply needs to be better regulated
• That there is currently a proposal to open a legal brothel in Vancouver
• That this proposal is said to speak for current and former prostitutes of Vancouver
• That this proposal promises to make the lives of prostituted women “safer” at best
• That none of us have ever met a prostituted woman who would not leave the “trade” if she had a real chance to do so
• That we are women who have been abused on Canadian soil, by Canadian men while all levels of our Government did nothing to intervene.
• That some members of parliament are now advocating to legalize that abuse.

We want you to know :

We are women who have been harmed by prostitution. We believe that no amount of changing the conditions or the locations in which we were prostituted could ever have significantly reduced that harm. We experience the normalizing of that harm by calling it “work” insulting at best.

It matters very little to us whether we were prostituted on the streets or in the tolerated indoor venues and escort agencies of Vancouver. Our memories are not of the locations but of the men who consistently acted as though we were not quite human. We remember the countless other men and women who daily averted their eyes. We remember the utter lack of services or options that made any sense and the blatant denial of access to any kind of help or justice. We remember the need to “dumb down” our sense of entitlement to a better life so we could bear the one we were in. And we remember too well the numbing despair that came when we finally lost faith that there existed in this world anything decent and good.

We oppose any measure that would put more power in the hands of the men who abused us by telling them that they are legally entitled to do so. This proposal does not speak for us, would not have affected our level of safety in a way that matters, and would not have spared us the harm that is inherent in prostitution.

We are not impressed with lip service proposals to make prostituted women’s lives “safer”. Safer is not good enough. We consider it a violation of our human rights that we were abandoned to years of situations that fit the definition of sexual assault under current law. But not only is this violence not recorded, not prosecuted, not punished. We are now being told that we chose it.

We believe that, where there is public and political will, lives can be changed for the better. We do not believe the lie that prostitution is inevitable. We believe it can be abolished.

As hosts of the 2010 games, we want our city, our home, to refuse to take part in the global flesh market that is sex tourism and send a message to the world that women will not be sold in Vancouver.

We believe that every sexually exploited woman represents a life wasted. We are greatly saddened for the lives of women lost in prostitution, as well as the loss of the sum of the contributions that countless women still living would have made had they not been abandoned to sexual slavery.

We urge you all to refuse to believe that prostitution is normal or that is an equal exchange ”between two consenting adults”. We urge you to oppose any attempt to introduce a legal brothel in Vancouver.

X-PALSS (Ex-Prostitutes Against Legislated Sexual Servitude), Vancouver, B.C.

E-Mail :

Aboriginal Women's Action Network

As Aboriginal women on occupied Coast Salish Territory, we, the Aboriginal Women's Action Network (AWAN) implore you to pay attention to the voices of Aboriginal women and women's groups who are speaking out in the interest of our sisters, our daughters, our friends and all women whose voices have not been heard in the recent media discussion on prostitution and legalized brothels for the 2010 Olympics.

We, the Aboriginal Women’s Action Network, speak especially in the interests of the most vulnerable women - street prostitutes, of which a significant number are young Aboriginal women and girls. We have a long, multi-generational history of colonization, marginalization, and displacement from our Homelands, and rampant abuses that has forced many of our sisters into prostitution. Aboriginal women are often either forced into prostitution, trafficked into prostitution or are facing that possibility. Given that the average age at which girls enter prostitution is fourteen, the majority with a history of unspeakable abuses, we are also speaking out for the Aboriginal children who are targeted by johns and pimps. Aboriginal girls are hunted down and prostituted, and the perpetrators go uncharged with child sexual assault and child rape. These predators, pervasive in our society, roam with impunity in our streets and take advantage of those Aboriginal children with the least protection. While we are speaking out for the women in the downtown eastside of Vancouver, we include women from First Nations Reserves, and other Aboriginal communities, most of whom have few resources and limited choices. We include them because AWAN members also originate from those communities, and AWAN members interact regularly with Native women from these communities.

The Aboriginal Women's Action Network opposes the legalization of prostitution, and any state regulation of prostitution that entrenches Aboriginal women and children in the so-called "sex trade." We hold that legalizing prostitution in Vancouver will not make it safer for those prostituted, but will merely increase their numbers. Contrary to current media coverage of the issue, the available evidence suggests that it would in fact be harmful, would expand prostitution and would promote trafficking, and would only serve to make prostitution safer and more profitable for the men who exploit and harm prostituted women and children. Although many well-meaning people think that decriminalization simply means protecting prostituted women from arrest, it also refers, dangerously, to the decriminalization of johns and pimps. In this way prostitution is normalized, johns multiply, and pimps and traffickers become legitimated entrepreneurs. Say "No" to this lack of concern for marginalized women and children, who in this industry are expected to serve simply as objects of consumption! The Aboriginal Women's Action Network opposes the legalization of brothels for the 2010 Olympics. We refuse to be commodities in the so-called "sex industry" or offer up our sisters and daughters to be used as disposable objects for sex tourists.

A harm-reduction model that claims to help prostituted women by moving them indoors to legal brothels, not only would not reduce the harm to them, but would disguise the real issues. There is no evidence that indoor prostitution is safer for the women involved. Rather, it is just as violent and traumatic. Prostitution is inherently violent, merely an extension of the violence that most prostituted women experience as children. We should aim not merely to reduce this harm, as if it is a necessary evil and/or inescapable, but strive to eliminate it altogether. Those promoting prostitution rarely address class, race, or ethnicity as factors that make women even more vulnerable. A treatise can be written about Aboriginal women’s vulnerability based on race, socio-economic status and gender but suffice it to say that we are very over-represented in street-level prostitution. There may even be a class bias behind the belief that street prostitution is far worse than indoor forms. It is not the street per se or the laws for that matter, which are the source of the problem, but prostitution itself which depends on a sub-class of women or a degraded caste to be exploited. A major factor contributing to the absence of attention given to the women who have gone missing women in Vancouver is the lack of police response, and the insidious societal belief that these women were not worthy of protection, a message that is explicitly conveyed to the johns, giving them the go-ahead to act toward these women with impunity. If we want to protect the most vulnerable women, we could start by decriminalizing prostituted women, not the men who harm them. Although it is not mentioned in the local news, the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution provides an example we should seriously consider. It criminalizes only the buying of sex, not the selling, targeting the customer, pimp, procurer, and trafficker, rather than the prostituted woman, and provides an array of social services to aid women to leave prostitution. Given that the vast majority of prostituted women wish to leave prostitution, we should focus on finding ways to help them to do that rather than entrenching them further into prostitution by legalizing and institutionalizing it. Here in Vancouver, if we are to help those most in need, young Aboriginal women, it would help to think more long-term, to focus on healing and prevention. Let's not get tricked into a supposed fix which is not even a band-aid, but only deepens the wounds.

AWAN demands that Aboriginal women have the opportunity to raise our families within our Traditional values of having a respected position for women and children in our societies. The single-most effective way of achieving that goal is empowering and resourcing Aboriginal women’s groups, such as AWAN, so that we can organize, engage with other sectors of society and speak with our own voices. We have a great deal of certainty that organized Aboriginal women’s voices would be calling for "Exiting" programs and services, support for Aboriginal women and children, and an end to forced prostitution. Let Vancouver enter into the 2010 Olympics without wearing the black-eye of decriminalized prostitution and legalized brothels that drive Aboriginal women further down the Human Rights ladder of Canadian and Vancouver society.

For further information, please contact AWAN spokesperson, Laura Holland at (604) 767-5564.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post it is fantastic.
The parents of Marnie Frey are so brave, I have so much respect for them. They make me cry.
I find very hard to understand the "justification" of brothels as being safer. I do not think there is any evidence for that.
Rather, I believe that when prostituted women and girls are put behind closed doors, it can and does give permission to the men choosing to buy sex to be as violent as they want.
No forms of prostitution are safe. As X-PALSS say I do want it to be made "safer", but to be abolish.

John Simpson - Manchester, England said...

There's no such thing as a 'clean safe' brothel.
Brothels serve only as deposit banks for vile horny neanderthals to empty their nuts and feel a sense of superiority, as brief as it is.

Vancouver can't pretend that prostitution isn't immoral or brush the problem under the rug by opening legal brothels.

That is NOT how you tackle the problem of prostitution.

lost clown said...

I just want to make clear that I do not oppose prostitution on moral grounds, rather on feminist grounds.

It is an industry that is misogynistic and by it's very nature serves to keep women subjugated to men as the sex class as women in prostitution are seen as interchangeable bodies that men have a right to abuse.

Maggie Hays said...

Thank you so much for posting this, Lost Clown. :) I agree that calling prostitution "work" is rather insulting.

I do not oppose prostitution on moral grounds either. I'm an abolitionist feminist. I believe they should prosecute johns and pimps, while decriminalizing prostituted women and providing them with exist programs.

Prostituted women do not want "better work conditions" as "sex work" advocates would have us believe. They want a better life, *outside of prostitution*.

The large percentage of aboriginal women being prostituted in Canada clearly shows that prostitution is not only a misogynistic but also a racist industry!

Anonymous said...

Thankyou so much for posting this, the statements made by AWAN and Marnie Frey's parents are spot-on and really draw from personal experiences, which makes the arguments a million times stronger. Strange how those who support prostitution NEVER address race and class issues that surround prostitution.