Thursday, February 02, 2006


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


I wrote the piece below in 2004 and still nothing has been done about the Venus. This even though the Courier did a full feature on the Venus Porn Theatre. This place allows survival sex trade workers to be treated like garbage. And the city and police have done nothing to address the harm there--Jamie Lee


Well as promised my trip to the Venus Theatre a few weeks back was eye opening and I came away with a better perspective on the realities and happenings of this old theatre, now porn theatre, which was once the majestic vaudeville theatre, the Lido. Following on the heels of my trip to the Venus, newsworthy is that Pat Johnson of the Vancouver Courier wrote an opinion piece a few days ago on the other porn theatre in Vancouver, the Kitten. This movie house, will soon depart Vancouver's Granville street as this main arterial re-invents itself as the Granville entertainment district. Mr Johnson referred to the Kitten as the 'Old Whore' so one assumes he has done his research and knows exactly what goes on in these theatres.

Of course the soon to be closed Kitten doesn't exactly spell disaster for the men and the odd couple who visit them. After all there is still the Venus where one can go to in order to satisfy their voyeurism or exhibitionism. As anyone who has ever been to a porn theatre can attest, the goings on inside the movie theatre often eclipse what's happening on the big screen.

Planning my trip to the Venus was easy. Not wanting to go alone I decided to invite my friend D. I filled her in on the customers who attend this adult porn theatre. It was her first time in a porn theatre so I had to play the role of protector to her. Co-incidentally, my friend happens to work at City Hall so this made the trip even more memorable for me. I love getting dirt on the City.

Arriving on a humid early evening Sunday, D and I each paid our $8.00 cover charge and entered into the darkened foyer of the theatre. Already having informed my friend D of the layout and which the Venus has a number of different levels to it, therefore for research purposes, I reminded her of our need to cover all areas. First though, upon entering the theatre, one must get used to the darkness that surrounds you. I encouraged D to follow my lead. Feeling your way around is not an option. Who knows what you may touch.

Being naturally observant and having had attended the Venus before, I suggested to D that we go upstairs to the balcony area where the bi and gay boys hangout. This way we would be more comfortable. First though we must ascend a gazillion stairs and pass by the second level foyer which houses the mens and womens washrooms. On this level is a small leather couch where a bolted down television is also located. Amid the old rickety chairs where if one so prefers, they can watch regular television programming. Of course since the majority of men who visit the theatre, also frequently visit the washroom on this level, one is able to catch a birds eye view of who exactly goes to the theatre.

Interestingly the womens washroom is always locked and I assume the operators have been warned by either the police or city inspectors to keep it locked for security reasons. And since the mens washrooms has no private stalls nor is there any partition between the toilets in the mens room, nor is there toilet paper or hot running water, one is left wondering if this meets health and safety standards in our city. Continually you observe the crack addicted girls who make a path to the men's washroom. The Venus has cameras placed strategically on either end of the second level foyer. These cameras hook up into a number of video monitors in the privately locked and curtained off office area. I can understand the need to be careful of possible dangers and what may happen in the women's washroom if left unlocked. But trust me it would probably pale in comparison to what goes on in the theatre. The female washroom has 4 private stalls which come equipped with toilet paper and hot water. This is in sharp contrast to the already mentioned men's washroom. However the girls don't use the women's washroom. Perhaps they are too timid to ask for entry. Perhaps the operators won't allow them entry.

Now that I have exposed the Venus' washrooms, and while there are sexy movies showing on the big screen, upon observation of the tawdry old theatre, visually, there isn't anything romantic or sexy about this place. Upstairs, the balcony area houses old office chairs and two ripping apart vinyl couches. There is a large notice in the foyer that says the couches are for the exclusive use of couples, but trust me, its unusual to see a couple in this den. While, smokers of the cigarette variety light up, smokers of other persuasions too flick their lighters. You see the balcony space is shared with whacked out crackheads who are free to smoke their crystal meth or crack. They are safely tucked away indoors, away from the eyes of the streets. Better then an alleyway. Better then a Cop hassling you

Speaking of dark deserted alleyways, a few female addicts camp out by the rear doors of the theatre as respectable men inside the theatre, desiring to leave anonymously, normally use these doors for their exits. This means female and male addicts who frequent the Venus can bypass the usual front ticket counter and this gives them free entry into the theatre.

While I suppose, crack addicts prefer to have an indoor place for consumption, away from the heat, perplexing is why they don't use the safe injection site which is located only a few blocks away . Ah I guess that's another story.

For Downtown eastside women who are addicted to crack, the Venus affords them an opportunity to make some money for their poison. You see here, they can turn a quick $5.00 or $10.00 trick and they can easily skip out to get their next fix. Observing these house girls in action is terribly sad. You see that they do anything for five bucks and in my opinion, what these girls are doing for the five bucks is demeaning. For men to exploit them and commodify them in this manner is obscene. I find this behavior ruthless and unacceptable.

I wish the drugs, that girls of the Venus consume, hasn't affected them the way it has. Compounding their addiction, is the way the Venus male customers treat them. Robbing them of any last bit of their respect or self-worth is akin to murder.

While I suppose one can make the argument that the Venus is safer than the streets for the drug addicted girls, I am not certain though that this makes what goes on there any more acceptable. I think the City should get its act together, because once again it has shown a complete disregard for prostitute's human rights and safety. Dignity must be restored in Cracktown. Isn't it time we get a handle on the prostitution issue and open the door, allowing some measure of dignity back into sex trade workers' lives.

Mayor Campbell, if your listening, let me pose this question, If you had a drug addicted daughter would you want her selling herself to a five buck bidder in a slimy dirty dump. I think its time, Mayor Campbell, that the city cleans up its act. The survival sex trade workers of this City deserve better. Way better.

Jamie Lee Hamilton