Tuesday, December 21, 2010

After Red Umbrella

Red Umbrella Day is over and done. I love that so many people showed up in the freezing freeze. I'd like to thank the UVic Women's Centre and the Anti Violence Project for their help in this and particularly I'd like to thank Sinead, Tracy and Gina for all their hard work getting it together.

It was a small gathering, Red Umbrella Day is still relatively new in Victoria. But everyone there walked and yelled in the march. Everyone stayed for the speeches afterwards and I think everyone had a sandwich and tea. We sold a couple happy sex boxes and had some great conversations in the Outreach RV.

What I was particularly impressed with was the men.

I've been immersed in sex work issues on 'this side of the counter' since 1995. This was the first time I'd seen men stand up for us in numbers. I think, for a long time, violence against sex workers & violence against women has been seen as a 'woman's issue' with only single, lone men involving themselves. Lately, over the past few years, the "Walk a Mile In Her Shoes" campaign has been taking off - a march of men in high heels, walking against violence against women. Now, of the speakers that stood up to the open mike, the majority were men.

This is a difference of some import.

I asked the crowd, when I was talking, to come up and tell us why they came to the Red Umbrella Day event. One of the men who stood up said "Violence is wrong for anybody". True story. I'm in agreement with him, but for so long I've heard "what do you expect when you work in that profession" or "you make your bed" or "people who put themselves out there are kind of asking for it". My favourite is the acknowledgement "Of course it's wrong that people do that to sex workers... but don't poke the tiger. It isn't right, but you already know what's going to happen". I've heard that from men and women alike.

I am heartened to see men stand up. In fact, all but one of those at the open mike were men. This makes me feel like things are changing. It makes me feel like we, as a community, are standing up to the violence and not sloughing the responsibility for solutions on the people who are most affected by the crimes.

I'm not interested in placing responsibility where there is no culpability. But I'm pretty sure that none of the guys that got up to talk had beaten up a hooker lately. I feel safe in that assumption. The fact that non-sex workers got involved was the first piece of the community puzzle. And I thank all of you for doing your part. The men are the next piece of this. Individually, personally deciding that this is an issue that negatively affects all of us.

Thank you. All you dudes. Thanks for the insight, sense of responsibility, and compassion that allows you to be part of the solution to this problem. Thank you for not taking it so personally that you don't want to touch it. Thank you for assuming your place in this fight without getting defensive, or simply paralysed because you don't know what to do. Thank you for acknowledging that we are all human beings. 

Now, go talk to your friends.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Re/Max Victorial Idol 2011 Finale!

This is going to be a night you don't want to miss with red carpet, paparazzi, contestants, judges and entertainment arriving via LA Limo. Be there early to take pictures. 
Raffle, Silent Auction
Come on out for an evening of entertainment. Special guest performers, celebrity judges, and more. 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Fuelled By. Not Caused By.

Red Umbrella Day is this Friday. It's a big deal. Red Umbrella Day is the march to end Violence against Sex Workers.

I've been fielding interviews for a couple of days now. I've heard it a lot: "violence is an occupational hazard in sex work" or "well you know what you're getting into when you start doing that kind of thing".

It galls me. It rankles. It makes my teeth itch.

Violence against sex workers has increased by 56% over the past three years in Victoria according to the Victoria Police Department. When I say violence I don't mean some abstract "bad things" are happening. I mean sitting with someone who is crying, scared, with angry red welts on their face. I mean someone walking with a limp because they were kicked so hard in the leg that the muscle is bruised and swollen and cramping. This is real. It is appalling.

I would like to argue that sex work is not dangerous. The work itself I mean. Instead, I'd argue that there are a tiny percentage of people (almost exclusively men) who are violent to sex workers. These particular individuals are dangerous. They are dangerous. They are dangerous to everyone. And the more vulnerable you are, the more dangerous they are to you. It seems like we're laying responsibility in the wrong direction again.

The violence many sex workers face is fuelled by, not caused by, the vulnerability of their position. Our job, as a community, as a society is to collectively come to the conclusion that we value each member of our society. Our job is to ensure that our children are well taken care of instead of blaming the families that fall while leaving them to sink or swim. Our job is to ensure that life's upsets don't end up trapping people where their dignity gets stripped away layer by layer. Our job is to explore the stereotypes we belief and the stigma we hold and our part in perpetuating both.

It is our job. Our job as human beings who care what happens to other human beings to fight against the forces that create environments where sex workers are more vulnerable, instead of less. Ridiculous laws, outdated ideas about women and sex, misunderstandings, and laying responsibility for violence at the feet of those being beaten has to stop.

There are many sex workers who won't show up to the march on Friday. The fear of being publically recognized as a sex worker is a valid one. This recognition could result in their children being taken away - even if they are fine parents, or losing a 'straight' job, losing family & friends. It saddens me that they can't show up to the march that is about making things safer for them because of fear.

Did you hear that?

"I can't go to a public march because I'm afraid of the consequences".

In Canada.

Victoria, can you hear that?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nothing Stays Silent

Anyone who attended our Annual General Meeting in May saw firsthand the exceptional work that is being produced in our Friday morning poetry writing group. Led by local poet Dvora Levin, we spend two hours every week learning poetry techniques and styles, hearing works by other poets, challenging ourselves to be free of the confines of our ‘logical brains’ and unleashing our creativity. We spend the first half of the class writing, working on a different “assignment” from Dvora each week. During the second half of the class, we read, discuss and critique our poems. The results are sometimes poignant, sometimes funny and always provocative poems that speak to themes such as love, pain, joy, fear and resilience. The poets are brave, imaginative and deeply supportive of one another.

Inevitably, upon starting classes, the participants have one of two responses to the news that they’ll be joining a poetry writing group on Fridays; it’s either “Oh great! I love writing!” or, “Are you kidding? I don’t know anything about writing poetry.” But it has sometimes been the most reluctant converts who produce the most passionate work. “The workshop has allowed me to express thoughts, feelings and words that have previously been unknown and unheard,” wrote participant Neela* about her experience attending the group, and others have echoed her opinion: “I was afraid of writing before but now I really like it,” wrote Mariane*, and Janis* added that, “We discover together the potential to be and do anything we individually imagine.” As a co-facilitator, I have been astounded many times by the creativity that seems to lie just below the surface in each one of our participants, and by the confidence that they display, and then further build, by getting to create and share their work. It’s not just about the poetry, either. Friday classes can be about processing difficult emotions, sharing life-altering experiences and building trust within the group.

A couple months ago, we started talking about how to get the word about our poetry out into the community, and the result of those conversations has been two projects. The first, a “chapbook,” or small booklet, is an anthology of poems produced in the class that the participants have decided to distribute around the community to places where there are waiting and/or reading spaces (community agencies, coffee shops, etc). The chapbook, which the participants named Nothing Stays Silent - Peerless Poetry, will introduce the project to the broader community, promote poetry-reading in public spaces, and will let readers know how they can support PEERS. It is also a precursor to our next project, a lined writing journal, that will be produced and sold in the new year. The journal will be decorated with participant-made cover and will contain participants’ poems scattered throughout. Keep your eyes peeled for them; they’re due out in the Spring.

In the meantime, Cowichan Bay artist Kristine Payton (
http://paton-place.com/) has generously donated a number of luscious writing journals that she produced entitled “Big Beautifuls – Journal For the Self” that we’re selling along with a copy of the Nothing Stays Silent poetry chapbook as a bonus. They make excellent holiday gifts for your loved ones. Please support Elements and contact us to get yours!
*names have been changed for privacy

Monday, November 29, 2010

Snow Day

Monday we had a snow storm. It was -8 with windchill hitting -16 according to Environment Canada. The roads were treacherous. We had to ground our Outreach RV. Luckily there was another agency out doing some outreach so the sex workers on the street weren't left with nothing.
As I sat in my warm, dry suite I was eternally grateful for the roof over my head, the electricity that allowed me to make a hot cup of tea and my big puffy duvet on my bed. I thought back to the last winter that I worked on the street.

I wasn't "hooked up" with services. In fact, the services at that time were far fewer than there are currently in Vancouver. I was scared of them and I didn't know any of them and I would turn away when they drove by. I didn't want to talk to them thank you very much.

It was -14. A cold snap for sure in the usually moderate Vancouver. The pavement sparkled that sharp, pointy light that a good freezing spell will create. I was wearing a pair of tights, a short skirt, a cardigan and dollar store gloves. You know those little throw-away ones. It was starving out. I might have seen 10 cars the whole time I was out. I stayed out until almost 4am that night. I broke twice. The last guy was a walk-by and I took him into the alley behind my corner. He kept complaining how cold my hands were even though I was handling him with my sleeves over my gloves. Eventually I got mad, thinking "it's uncomfortable for YOU?" I gave him his money back and told him to keep walking.  I think I made 60$ that night. Chump change.

Monday night the wind was blowing ice and snow all over the place. Great swathes of the Islands were without power. Cars were stuck in the ditches and in intersections. My little suite was even chilly and I had a space heater going that night. I started bitching in my head. Bitching about the cold, bitching that I couldn't get my truck out of my parking spot. Then I remembered.

It will never be that again. It will never be me on the street at -14 with some guy complaining that my hands are too cold. For me. But it's still that for the others working the street though. Our RV wasn't out and although many of the shelters had opened extra beds, you can't make money in a homeless shelter. AND some of the people working the street had homes... just no money. When I was out there I had a home. I was still freaking cold that night.

Today it's snowing; it's been snowing for four days now. The people who could make the decision to not go out to work on Monday during the really cold snap are starting to go back out. They're running out of money or food or cigarettes. Rent day is coming up and summer is a long way away.

This is not an "oh look at the poor hookers" story. Just me remembering what it was like, in the winter, working the street and knowing someone else is there now. Someone referred to us as "tissue people". Pull one out and another takes their place. Although I resent the implication that I'm a tissue, I understand the feelings of hopelessness and futility sometimes.

Then I see the people around me. People who've gotten out and started doing other things. People who've moved their work inside. People who've found warmer, safer and more lucrative ways to work. We, as a community, aren't tissues. We are, however, a work in progress.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Red Umbrella Day

December 17th is Red Umbrella Day. Red Umbrella Day has a double meaning. It is both to protest the criminalization of Sex Workers and to call to end violence against Sex Workers.

The laws around sex work have been in the news quite a bit lately as Justice Susan Himel struck down three of the laws that caused the most harm in Ontario. PIVOT Legal Society is trying to do a similar action in BC.

The laws struck down were the "living off the avails of prosititution", prohibition of running a bawdy house, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution.

The "living off the avails of prostitution" law was implemented in order to address pimping. However, it does nothing to change the lives of people working for pimps, it wrongly targets anyone involved with a sex worker (an adult child living with a sex worker, a sex workers spouse or partner, for example) and it creates an environment in which partners, roommates, and family members of sex workers are criminalized for sharing money.

The bawdy house law prohibits sex workers from working inside, with other people, forcing them to work on the street, and in isolation. This creates huge safety risks for those in an already risky trade.

Prohibiting communicating for the purposes of prostitution means that sex workers can't negotiate a transaction, can't lay clear boundaries and limits with clients or use that conversation to suss out a potential client.

This is a very nutshelled version of the laws and we applaud Justice Himel for taking such a bold stand.

Justice Himel said:

"These laws, individually and together, force prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," she said.

..."I find that the danger faced by prostitutes greatly outweighs any harm which may be faced by the public,"

As you can see, fighting the violence against sex workers and continuing the fight against these nonsensical laws go hand in hand.

Red Umbrella Day is a march to rally the community to help end the violence and abuses targeted at sex workers. It really does have to stop.

This morning over coffee at PEERS several women started a conversation about thier scars. Several other women chimed in with stories of how they got this one, how they got that one, where they were in healing from the fear and trauma, how it still affects them. Violence against sex workers isn't an abstract concept or something that sounds like a bad idea, it's something that affects us very deeply. These are real women and men really getting beaten bloody. They are really getting killed and leaving family and friends grieving in their wake.

Join PEERS on Red Umbrella Day. Wear red, bring a red umbrella, paint a sign. Be part of the solution.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Victoria Idol is Gearing Up!!

Message from Elaine Baglo, the producer of the ReMax/Victoria Idol:
Re/Max Victoria Idol 2011 semi-finals on Nov 12 & 13 at the Isabelle Reader Theatre in Langford. Tickets are available at all Thrifty Foods stores for $10 each. 
SUPPORT PEERS & RE/MAX VICTORIA IDOL and purchase a raffle ticket at $5. each or 3 for $10. The draw is on Nov 13th during the show where 3 tickets will be drawn for the following prizes: 

One night stay at Sooke Harbour House
Adventure Package (whalewatching and Paintball)
Spa Package (products and treatment at Nurture Thyself Day Spa) 
contact Elaine at:  info@victoriaidol.com   to purchase raffle tickets. 

Entering Into This Century!

Hi Everyone! We're pretty happy to announce our new facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Peers-Victoria/168869749809046?v=info&ref=ts

We've also gotten ourselves all hooked up with twitter so we can twitter our little heads off!  @peersvictoria

And now?  A blog. Yes, it's true. PEERS is no longer lying dormant in the dusty old corner of yesteryear.

We accept technical assistance. Don't laugh. We do.