Sex work can be a dangerous business, particularly at street level. There are several organizations run by current and former sex workers who are working to ensure greater health, safety and wellness within the sex industry.
Trade Secrets is an excellent resource manual developed by the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities to support health and safety in the sex industry. Designed for sex industry workers, the guide aims to create working environments and cultures that adhere to human rights laws, common law and labour standards, and stop exploitation, violence, youth involvement and forced (economic or other) involvement in sex work.
There are times in everyone’s life when support is needed. Sex workers, in particular may find it difficult to ask for assistance from others because many of us have spent the majority of our lives taking care of ourselves. Today in Vancouver there are organizations that specifically work on the issues of equality and human rights of sex workers through support and advocacy. These organizations provide everything from basic necessities to programming for sex workers whether currently working or exited.
Organizations such as PEERS, PACE, WISH, Boys R Us, and the Mobile Access Project understand the importance of not shaming sex workers and provide non-judgmental service regardless of where they are at in their lives. Some organizations work from an “experiential” model exercising the belief that the best support a sex worker can receive is from an individual who has had a history of sex work himself or herself. Not everyone will feel comfortable accessing any one of these services however each one is reachable by phone and can refer you to a service that works.
SAFE In Collingwood Outreach
The SAFE Outreach Team provides: harm reduction supplies, drinks and snacks, hygiene supplies, peer support, referrals and can take bad date reports. The team is out Friday evenings from 10pm – 2am and the outreach phone is checked daily.
Services include counselling, education, advocacy, peer education, support, individual case planning and coordination.
Phone: 604.488.1001 ext 231
HUSTLE supports male and transgendered sex workers as well as experiential youth in Vancouver by offering outreach and support programming in the community.
SWAN (Sex Workers Advocacy Network)
SWAN is a culturally diverse group of women working to provide culturally appropriate and language-specific support, education, research, advocacy, and outreach for trafficked, migrant and immigrant sex trade workers.
WISH Drop in Centre Society
WISH provides services to women in survival sex work. The WISH Drop-In Centre is the heart of the programs found at WISH, a safe place off the street where women can find acceptance, hot meals, support services and more. WISH also operates the MAP Van and oversees the Bad Date Reporting service (see below).
MAP (Mobile Access Project)
Operates in conjunction with WISH Drop-In Centre and PACE Society and provides outreach to sex workers (counselling, condoms and clean needles, basic first aid and immediate response to emergency services) as well as bad date reporting.
Bad date reporting
Current updates on violent or predatory dates by and for sex workers. Bad Date reports are taken by WISH and are disseminated through a large network of service providers in contact with women working in the sex industry.
Boys R Us
Boys R Us is a referral and outreach program that provides a safe, supportive drop-in for guys and transgender folks (participants) who work or used to work in the sex trade.
Transgender Health Program
Phone: 604-734-1514 or 1-866.999.1514 (BC only)
Peer Support Weekly Drop-in Discussion Group. Open to anyone exploring their own gender issues. Located at Three Bridges and funded by Vancouver Coastal Health.
Safety Tips for Sex Workers
General Tips to Keep Us Safe
Sex work can be a dangerous business especially street level. Here are some tips to keep safe and take care. Let’s help others reduce the risks and pass this on!
- Always negotiate price and service. Get the money up front.
- Do not work when you are high or drunk. You will be less likely to take risks.
- Wear shoes in which you can run, or that you can slip off easily.
- Do not wear anything around your neck that a client can use to strangle or drag you such as necklaces, scarves, etc.
- Carry a cell phone. You can call yourself and leave a message with a description or text the license plate to a friend. That way they know you are not as isolated and vulnerable.
- Work with friends if possible. If you have to work alone, be creative and carry a piece of chalk with you to write down the license plate of your next client on the sidewalk or wall where you are standing. Always casually tell a client you have been seen leaving in their car and are expected back at a certain time.
- Carry a whistle. Some prefer to carry devices that can be used to protect themselves such as mace. However, it has been proven that such things can be turned against you at any time. A whistle is safe, small, compact, legal and loud.
- Use condoms to protect yourself.
- Share information with other sex workers. If you have had a bad experience with a client, pass the details on to organizations that have a direct connection to bad date reporting. You can report a bad date by calling the Mobile Access Project at 604-720-5683.
Working Safe: Choose Your Environment
- Fairly safe: take out an ad in the local alternative paper or on the net.
- Fairly safe: sign up with a service.
- Less safe: work in clubs and bars.
- Least safe: be extremely careful on the street. Try to work with others.
Observe the Client
- Listen to his voice.
- Observe his body language.
- Listen to your intuition– if it does not feel right, there is a good chance it is not.
- Trust your instincts and be willing to turn customers down.
- Are they high? Are they drunk? Are you prepared to deal with them? Always ask yourself these questions.
Entering a Client’s Vehicle
- Make sure the client is alone. More than one person increases your risks.
- Do a full circle around the car. Get the license plate number.
- Check behind the back seat to make sure that no one is hiding.
- Always check door handles before you get in to make sure they work.
- Make sure you know how to unlock the door before entering car.
- Try to avoid vans, pickups, and SUVs, especially with tinted windows.
- Unless it is a regular, avoid bridges, tunnels and dimly lit unfamiliar places.
- Pick your own parking spots and hotels.
- Check the address. If the client says they are taking you to one place, but pulls up to another, this may not be all they are lying about.
- Do not enter a room if there is more than one person. If others show up, leave immediately.
- When in a car or in a room, keep an eye on the exit at all times and do not let the customer block your access to it.
- It is safer for you to bring a client to your house and hide a friend in the closet than it is for you to go to the client’s house and have his friend hiding in the closet.
- If the client takes you to their place, check for hidden cameras (especially in mirrors) and in all the rooms and closets for unsuspected guests.
Stay True to Self and Know Your Limits
- Take charge of the situation. Control negotiations with clients, set clear limits for accepting or rejecting and maintain prices and safe-sex practices.
- You are less vulnerable if you are on top.
- It is wiser to give than to get. This goes for bondage, spankings, water sports, oral sex, and rimming.
- It is never a good idea to allow a stranger to tie you up.
- Decide for yourself what you will and will not do.
- Do not carry drugs or excessive amounts of cash.
Safety Tips with Clients
- Do not rob your clients because it may have negative consequences for your fellow colleagues and you will not have repeat business.
- Be honest about your gender, many trans-woman have had extremely bad dates due to not disclosing their identity.
- Do not promise a service that you are not willing to do, if you hate Greek don’t promise you are going to do it, there is always another date waiting just for you.
Working in Renfrew Collingwood
Building Respectful Relationships
As a sex worker, you have the right to feel safe and supported within the community where you live and work. In order to be recognized as a community member, it is important to be respectful of the neighbourhood in which you work. Starting to build healthy relationships with other community members and recognizing the various issues and concerns that exist for communities where there is visible street level sex work is an important first step towards mutual trust and respect.
Whether it is between a sex worker and a resident or perhaps a business owner or employee, both parties need to be committed to this process. Building healthy relationships takes time and not everyone will be open to dialogue. However, with patience and perseverance, individuals can begin to feel safe.
Below are a few examples of how these healthy relationships can begin:
- When working in any neighbourhood, sex workers need to realize that their faces will become familiar to other community members and residents over time. Once this occurs, one of the most effective ways to initiate a good relationship is simply by saying hello. Be prepared not to get a favourable response on your first few attempts. But, if you are consistent and respectful, eventually one will feel safe and respond.
- Naturally, after you have built up a bit of a familiarity, the next step may be to engage in small talk. Maybe in passing, you comment on the beautiful weather that we’re having or perhaps simply some general pleasantries, to one another. In some cases a small dialogue may begin and both parties will continue on their way with a smile.
- In neighbourhoods where you may work, it is important to feel safe and respected at all times. You may experience issues of hostility, verbal abuse, physical threats, shaming and even violence. Now that a relationship has been formed, this is the perfect time to address some of these issues with community members. Share your concerns and look to how we can all work together in addressing issues of health and safety. We all want to live and work in safer communities and a solution needs to be met by both parties over time.
- If you are in distress, do not be afraid to ask someone for assistance.
- To avoid coming across as a nuisance, only seek help in those situations where it is of extreme importance, such as needing to make a phone call or use the washroom facilities.
- Know the neighbourhood in which you work as well as the community members who may live and work alongside you. It helps to maintain your sense of safety if others are watching out for you.
- Remember that you are the eyes within communities who can greatly aid in the prevention of neighbourhood crimes such as vandalism.
- Please keep in mind that, although there may be community members who will not be sex worker friendly, there are also caring and compassionate people who are and will lend support when necessary.
- The police aren’t always the best people to call in cases where no crime has been committed. Mobile services exist and are available for assisting sex workers if no other options are available to you, within community. Please keep these numbers handy.
Who to Call
911 is to be used only for emergencies (police, fire or medical) where an immediate response is required – when there is an emergency and lives are in danger, immediate action is required or there is a crime in progress.
Sex Industry Liaison Officer:
Sex workers may feel more comfortable speaking with the Sex Industry Liaison Officer. She provides a link between sex workers and the police, through support and intervention services:
Linda Malcolm, Phone: 604.516.9854
The non-emergency number should be used for all non-emergency situations, where an immediate response or dispatch of the police IS NOT required – when some time has elapsed since the incident occurred, the crime suspect is not on the scene or you are calling about a nuisance issue (e.g. noisy party, graffiti).
Sister Watch: 604-215-4777
To report information that you have about violence towards sex workers. Multi-faceted operation designed to combat violence against women in the Downtown Eastside and make the community safer for everyone who lives and works there.