By Wency Leung
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Sex workers in Vancouver--the scene of Canada's worst suspected serial murder case--are planning a cooperative brothel, which they say will give them a safe place to work as officials polish the city's image for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
VANCOUVER, Canada (WOMENSENEWS)--Susan Davis considers herself one of the lucky ones.
In her 21 years as a sex worker, Davis, 39, has known countless peers who have died of suicide, murder, AIDS or drug overdose in Vancouver's gritty Downtown Eastside.
She herself has experienced four heart attacks from smoking crack cocaine and survived several assaults by violent clients while working on the streets.
"I'm a one-percenter," Davis said, referring to the notion that the other 99 percent fail to survive this impoverished, drug-infested neighborhood. "It's nuts down here."
Now, Davis and other local sex workers have banded together to establish Canada's first cooperative brothel in an attempt to offer women a safe place to work.
The group, formed by a sex workers' alliance based here, called the British Columbia Coalition of Experiential Women, will incorporate next month and is already setting the groundwork to open the co-op brothel.
Members have begun scouting for a location and are enlisting the backing of local businesses, police and labor organizations.
Faced with the task of cleaning up the city to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver authorities said they are open to the idea.
"We would be willing to explore anything that . . . would be helping the situation of sex trade workers, and make it safer for them and make it better for the community," said Vancouver police spokesperson Howard Chow. He noted one requirement: "It has to be something that is lawful."
Prostitution itself is legal in Canada. However, since most activities associated with it are not--such as soliciting sexual services in a public place, operating a bawdy house and living off the avails of prostitution--the group is planning to appeal to the federal government for an exemption.
The government has already allowed the operation of a safe, supervised injection site in the city, where authorities give amnesty to intravenous drug users.
"Vancouver truly is the testing ground for new ideas," Davis said, citing the site as well as other initiatives, such as free needle exchange programs and the testing of prescription heroin on addicts.
"We can't do anything that would put police in a position to arrest us," she said. "So, what we're saying is, 'This is such a little place. Let us try and demonstrate to you what we think will happen, which is it will greatly diminish the complaints from the neighborhood and will greatly increase the safety of the sex workers of the Downtown Eastside.'"
The Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter objects to the idea of a co-op brothel, as it views prostitution as a means of perpetuating violence against women.
An overwhelming majority of prostitutes would leave the sex trade if given a choice, said shelter spokesperson Daisy Kler.
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