Vancouver 2010 and Legal Brothels

This is the edited version I sent into Laurier’s chapter of JHR after the editors’ suggestions.

Considering the amount and range of coverage of the 2010 Olympics in both mainstream and alternative media, there is a shocking paucity of recognition of an issue that hits women and children, especially those further marginalised by race and class inequalities – the Olympic sex trade.  It seems forbidden for women in prostitution, feminists, First Nations activists, or any other concerned people to speak of the sexism, racism, and colonialism that will become apparent as a largely male tourist demographic participates in the sex trade as they follow the Olympics to Vancouver.

It is truly bizarre—influxes of men into nations are quite plainly seen as opportunities for the prostitution industry. The legal and illegal sectors of the sex trade industry traffic and exploit women (and men, and children), and many men buy into it. Some news-stories, true to racist/classist misogynist form, are going with the tagline “the world’s oldest profession”—which is phallacious: it implies that it was the first thing women did for wages in past economic systems, as if it is in women’s nature. In truth, as feminist historian Gerda Lerner argues, prostitution as we know it began when slave owners realised they could sell the rape of their enslaved to other men for a large return on profit—it was the monetary exploitation of their bodies combined with the realisation that the sexual pleasure they got in raping others could be transferred to other men.

Pro-sex work organisations want to legalise prostitution and set up government-approved brothels. It is explicitly stated, by both supporters and detractors, that this is being done for the Olympics next year, with the businesses behind it stressing that yes, it will be done in time for the influx of sports-watching men. Incredibly, some reporting on the proposal of legal brothels in Vancouver has the audacity to claim that the women in prostitution claim they are needed for the Olympics. The West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) is eager to say that legitimate businesses will fund a “co-operative brothel” for the games. Most support for getting women in street prostitution into indoor prostitution illustrates how this has little to do with support for their safety, health, human rights, or dignity. Supporters often plainly state it is about “cleaning the streets up” and “protecting children from seeing it.” In other words, predominantly white, middle class people don’t want the “good people” to see. This would further evident in Vancouver, where the criminalisation of homeless people is thorough, with loss of shelter, no sit no lie laws, and police violence against squatters. Another common reason is the tax revenues that could be gained. Possibly most importantly, a lot of men want to buy prostitution sex legally, and cling to the view that it is harmless and between consenting adults. Most commentary on the topic involves these rationales.

It’s illustrative to look to already legal systems of prostitution to demonstrate it’s about cleaning up the streets and providing women for male consumers. In legal brothels, only women are tested for sexually transmitted diseases, never the customers. Research by Mary Sullivan of women in legal brothels in Australia, Janice Raymond of Holland, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women of Germany, and Melissa Farley of Nevada show how little attention is paid to the women’s safety. Women are taught hostage negotiation, have panic buttons, and such in the better brothels. Women actually have less control over the prostitution experience than they do in street prostitution, such as not being allowed to refuse a john, and exorbitant fines to police their behaviour. Countries that legalise experience increased street prostitution, child exploitation, and trafficking.

Prostituted women, such as women in the research mentioned throughout, as well as “Peridot Ash” (a pseudonym), Suki Falconberg, Rebecca Mott, speak out against legalised prostitution in any form that legitimates pimps, procurers, and johns as “businessmen” or “facilitators.” They strongly believe that those in the industry not be treated as criminals—and that the abusers must be. They stress both the international scope of the industry, and the damage it does to the body and mind. Kelly Hollsopple’s fantastic study of women in stripping reveals that emotional, sexual and physical abuse runs rampant, and Lisa Kramer’s astute analysis of women’s emotional experiences of performing prostitution in a variety of types, most indoor, reveals profoundly negative impacts and effects on the mind. They, most eloquently Andrea Dworkin, also discuss how as prostitution is increasingly entrenched in society, justice for women becomes more and more difficult. Johns are encouraged to see women and “lesser” males (eg Aboriginal, poor, homosexual) as simply existing to facilitate male masturbation; those “masturbation aides” are constantly told, by pimps, johns, even the average citizen, that that is what they are, and what they are good for. In fact, it is so true to their nature, it should be legal for men to use them as such.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter produced a powerful documentary of prostituted women’s voices called “Flesh Mapping.” Other groups opposed to legalised brothels include Ex-Prostitutes Against Legislated Sexual Servitude (X-PALSS), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), members of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, CATW, and the umbrella campaign No 2010 Brothels. They speak powerfully of the racism that they see as inherent in prostitution, from the heightened vulnerability of women who are Aboriginal, Asian, Black, and from the former USSR; to the sexism seen as inherent—approximately eighty five per cent of prostituted people are female according to many studies, such as those in Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress, ed. Melissa Farley, and the vast majority of johns are, well, johns, not janes.

Additionally, these groups all speak of both their experiences as currently and formerly prostituted people, and empirical studies which show that the vast majority—most studies, from Farley to Kramer to the UN’s International Labour Organisation, find over ninety per cent—of those in prostitution want to escape it, not be told they just need to do it indoors. Farley and Jacqueline Lynne did a study on women prostituting in Vancouver experiences of trauma, from rates of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) double that of war veterans to broken bones by pimps to homelessness and rapes by johns.

An instructive lesson as to what could well happen if the legal brothels are set up for the Olympics, is to look at what happened during past Olympics and other international sports events. During the 2006 Olympics in Athens, an estimated 40 000 girls and women were trafficked to satisfy the increased demand for prostitution sex, according to Victor Malarek, author of The Natasha’s: Inside the New Global Sex Trade.  Germany, which has a legal system of brothel prostitution, held the 2006 World Cup. The UN-affiliated NGO CATW says that of the 400 000 people in the prostitution industry there, ninety per cent were immigrants, with 40 000 trafficked into Germany for the sole purpose of this mega-sporting event. Additionally, legal brothels often act as covers for trafficking, and make investigation difficult.

So why is there so little press surrounding this issue of prostitution—is it because so many of them are women of colour? Is it because the vast majority of “customers” are white men? As we continue to understand the construct of the Olympic Games as expressed through their three pillars of culture, sport and environment, it is important to critically assess if these pillars are being holding, and it is perhaps even more important to ensure Canada’s commitments to human rights are being upheld.

Published in: on February 9, 2009 at 6:00 am  Comments (11)  

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  1. In fact, the hype and hysteria created by the abolitionists before the World Cup in Germany were found to be just that: hype and hysteria. See the report: Trafficking in Human Beings and the 2006 World Cup in Germany, by the International Organization for Migration.

  2. Read this, Denyse:

    Your calling abolitionist feminists “hysterical” reeks of misogyny.

    Also, your link isn’t by the IOM, the report even has a declaimer stating that the opinions of the actual authors (Jana Hennig, Sarah Craggs, Frank Laczko and Fred Larsson) don’t necessarily reflect that of the IOM. Just saying.

    Also, the report states: “the characteristics of the fan-base at the 2006 World
    Cup had an impact on the demand for sexual services. Many of the fans were
    women or families with children.” That just helps prove my point–male demand drives trafficking and prostitution.

  3. Nice article, demonista. If legal brothels happen in Vancouver 2010, me and a couple of my anarcha-feminist friends are going to sit by the front doors of the brothels with cameras so the men who feel secure enough in their masculinity to use legal prostitutes can be seen conducting their legal business. Sex worker rights advocates say visibility takes criminality out of prostitution so lets put that theory to test and see if johns become less violent when they know they’re being watched.

    Adding weight to CATW’s contention that brothels reported a huge increase at the same time street prostitutes were sought more by johns seeking to pay less, rape kids, and avoid detection is the following Guardian article where journalists were threatened with legal action if they tried to report on street prostitution during the World Cup. If reporters tried to get information outside the official pacts offered by official rape-room representatives they were threatened with arrest in Cologne.

    Media banned from red light district
    Katy Duke
    Wednesday May 3, 2006

    “…Cologne authorities have announced a total ban on journalists using still or video cameras in the Geestemuende district where the drive-in brothels are located.

    Robert Kilp, the head of the city’s public affairs department, said if a journalist was caught filming in the area the tape would be removed and a warning issued, but if he or she was caught a second time the consequences would be more serious.

    “Anyone filming or taking pictures there will be liable to prosecution. Prostitutes are having sexual intercourse in cars there, it is not a good thing to be filming.”

    But Mr Kilp insisted the German authorities were not trying to prevent serious reporting on the world’s oldest profession.

    ‘If a journalist goes to a brothel and gets the owner’s permission to film that’s fine.'”

    Neither the article writer nor the interviewees once used /women/, only /prostitutes/ and /girls/.

  4. […] and Being “Of Color”  and The Status Quo Catharsizes Private Matters Vancouver 2010 and Legal Brothels Thoughts on ‘consent’ The End of Feminist Blogging and The Colonizing of the […]

  5. another reason to hate the fucking olympics.

  6. i’m sharing this one with friends.

    SAM: i’d like to join you and your pals in your photo-fest. where do i sign up?

  7. The Aboriginal Women’s Action Network was in attendance at the One is Too Many Summit held in Vancouver. Typically we do not ask our women to tell their stories because we do not wish to exploit their stories and their lives. However, there are women amongst us, and in our communities, who want to tell their stories, and this is one woman who insisted on telling her story about her life and sharing her thoughts, feelings and opinions about her experience. We give her thanks and honour her courage to offer her life story, because as she says, “it’s too important to not tell, and people need to understand.”

    “Hello, my name is Georgenia, I am of Kwakwakeuk and Coast Salish ancestory. I want to acknowlege the Coast Salish people for allowing us to be on their unceded territories. I come from a long line of people who were oppressed by the governments and the churches. Both, parents and grandparents, were products of Indian Residential Schools. Myself, I was an extension of the government’s plan
    to break down our people. I was apprehended in what is now known as the 60’s scoop, and I was placed in abusive and violent foster homes.

    Here in our homelands, we’ve seen violence and sexual violence learned from these systemic forces, (fucked) incested and molested by our fathers, uncles and foster parents .. this sexualized violence was the training ground for what was to come later in our lives. At fourteen I started to run from these foster homes. I came to Vancouver at 15 years old, where I found my Mom in a small rundown hotel called the Sunrise Hotel. She was broken down and beaten by the residential school, which was the breeding ground for what was to come later in her life; violent men and prostitution.. My mother cried ’til the day she died. At fifteen I found a family down in Vancouver’s skid row with people like myself, a family that I created – or was created for me.

    I felt like a burden to my mom who was living on a small welfare cheque. I knew my Mom was frustrated with the financial burden, I didnt have many choices.

    So when I met the man who was to become my pimp and boyfriend, I was willing to do anything I had to do to survive. I was groomed, trained & encouraged to prostitute myself with his ‘nice’ words of “Everyone is doing it,” and that he promised he would “love me no less.” I remember being prostituted as a very young woman, still a child.. crying myself to sleep.. full of shame and remorse. I started using drugs and alcohol to push these thoughts and feelings down. At that time in my life, I thought this was my destiny, and I would find no better. My pimp at the time confirmed these thoughts when he said, “no one would want you anymore.” So I made the best of a difficult situation. The difficult situation being my life had been a nightmare, and the nightmare continued here in the city.

    During my time on the street I was abused so many times, I couldn’t count if I tried, with knives and guns.. physically and sexually. Many times I found my self with black eyes and no where to turn. I was assisted by organizations who gave me condoms, bad trick sheets and false hope. I even volunteered my story and campaigned with organizations like the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes… I wore shirts that said “a blow-job is better than no job.” They gave me condoms to protect me from disease and pregnancy – but they did not offer me hope. Nor was I offered any real exiting strategies – this also confirmed that this was my so-called destiny.

    Housing, training and jobs weren’t available.

    I remember hearing about women that were going missing or were found dead when they were “working” the street. “Working,” I don’t even like to say that word in the same sentence, it wasn’t a job. There were no benefits. I didnt get high risk or danger pay – but then again it wasn’t a job – men were paying to violate me. If it wasn’t for my rule that I wouldn’t leave the city with a trick I would be dead too. I was approached my men who wanted to take me out of the city boundaries.

    My friends never had the chance to tell their story because they were found dead in places like the Pickton farm. I cry for them, I even helped carve a memorial pole for those ones that disappeared or were found dead. Our sisters are still going missing all the time.

    In this last year I ‘ve learned two of our youth have committed suicide rather than continue to be paid to be raped. They jumped off balconies to escape from the violence of prosititution. These youth lived in places like Beach Avenue and they worked in high end so called safe escort services. It’s sad when suicide seems the only option, but it happens all of the time.

    What we know is; Aboriginal women and children are being harmed as we speak. Women and youth are turning to alcohol and drugs to cope.

    When my Mom passed away at thirty eight, I was twenty two years old. This was a turning point in my life. I no longer had a reason to be in the downtown eastside.

    I tried to find help for myself through detox and treatment centers and the AA program. There were no services that were designed to help women exit the streets.

    Just the harm reduction model, condoms and bad trick sheets. The issues we have to face when we leave the streets are many. Shame, post truamatic stress syndrome, displacement, lack of self esteem. I had no education, no experience to find a job and safe, affordable housing was not available to me.

    So when you say you want to offer us assistance, we say: “We want real jobs, not blowjobs.”

    Some say they have the Aboriginal peoples voice to promote the brothels and the legalization or decrimalizion of prostitution. We, the aboriginal women, say that we want more than that. Do we want to leave this as a legacy for the future of our children and grandchildren? I heard it said that prostitution is the oldest profession in the world, then how come Aboriginal people can’t even come up with a name for that in our traditional languages? It’s not our culture, it is not what I want to leave for my children. Prostitution is nothing but violence against women, why would we want to leave that for our children? As Native people, we think of healing using the medicine wheel, the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Prostitution affects all those areas and takes many years to mend afterward. After many years I still cry and mourn for that child that lost her innocence.

    I was living in the downtown eastside last year, I saw a fifty something year old woman, a grandmother, working the streets because of the two year welfare cutoff period.

    Prostitution should not have been her only option. It’s shameful that a country so rich in lands and resources cannot offer a guaranteed liveable income to a woman indigenous to these lands.

    Housing, better welfare rates, more job training, education opportunities without the risk of being cut off welfare. We want more detox beds and real opportunities for the women still out there. We need better exiting programs. Not a brothel so the millionare white men who come for 2010 olympics can have better access to violence against woman.

    Shame on you if you think that we, the Aboriginal women, are going to advocte for and promote the pro pimp agenda.

    I am using my own experience to let you, the public, know what happened and continues to happen to our Aboriginal women and children. I want to be a voice for the the ones that cant speak out for themselves because of the circumstances they are in.

    When I was fourteen and running away from sexually violent foster homes, I was looking for my Mom. I was in search of safety, protection and love.

    When I finally found help – it was from women in the feminist movement. They helped me name the violence that was committed against me. They had the radical notion that that I was a human being; a human being worthy of safety, respect, dignity, a home and a job or career.

    I do live with painful memories of my past, but I am not ashamed of who I am. Today, I am a Proud, Aboriginal Feminist. And I am proud to stand with my sisters who oppose violence against women and children and demand that we be treated with respect and dignity in our homelands!

    Not only do we fight for the rights of our Aboriginal women and children, but we fight for the rights of all women and children to live violence free and without the threat of becoming prostituted or trafficked. We fight for the rights of all women and children, because what happens to Aboriginal women and children happens to women and children globally.

    I want to thank you for being here today and for listening to my words and joining in the struggle to end violence against women and children.”

  8. hey harmony, yeah, let’s get in on sam’s plan! 🙂 do you know if you’ll be joining the convergence in 2010?

    laura h, thank you so much for those words of your sister. I’ll include them in the next part of the carnival of radical feminists. She, and others, need to be heard–and listened to–far and wide.

  9. yeah, that’s the plan!

  10. awesome! whoot, whoot. i’m really excited and nervous and lotsa other emotions about the upcoming convergence. 😀 we should do some shit-kicking together there, and elsewhere 😛

  11. HELLZ YEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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