Monday, December 10, 2007


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


The topic of the day continues to be the Pickton farm carnage. As media scramble to write about the case, I am reminded again of how countless women went missing and murders of sex trade workers happened long before the Pickton file exploded before us.

What has been on my radar for awhile now is how individuals and groups who previously paid little or no attention to the plight of missing and murdered women, are jumping all over the sex trade band-wagon since Pickton was charged.

I have worked as a sex worker advocate since 1991. After the murder of Cheryl Ann Joe, this propelled me back into offering support with the goal of finding solutions to those involved in prostitution.

During this time, I have watched as not only insensitive men, many who have exploited the vulnerability of sex trade workers--but even worse--in my opinion--are those who engage in exploitation--yet do so under the guise of benevolence.

There is no doubt that it can be argued that anyone speaking out, in fact, raises awareness of the sex trade and that this is a good thing.

I though question this stance and I'm certain others do as well.

I cite the Downtown Eastside/Oldtown as an example of wonderful benevolence, yet, whether this benevolence has provided solutions or worked for the betterment of the marginalized and disadvantaged citizens in my neighborhood, is worth asking.

An argument has been successfully articulated that the numerous advocates, church groups and various organizations which purport to assist, may have further entrenched people into poverty.
I do not want this same scenario happening to the sex trade and therefore this is an opportune time to raise my voice.

It appears that the Pickton case has provided convenient opportunities for many and this needs addressing.

The online blog, Orato, has probably been the worst offender of jumping on a cause and actually using exploitative tools to further advance their agenda.

Using the Pickton case as the backdrop for Orato's launch, they proceeded to tap into two women who profess to be ex sex trade workers. The plan was for these women to provide inside coverage of the Pickton trial and their former involvement in the sex trade, it was suggested provided expertise that other media couldn't possibly have.

Really obscene was Orato choosing not to pay these women a wage and only offering to provide out-of-pocket expenses such as covering meals or gas money. This, in itself is highly exploitive, whether these women agreed to this or not.

It must be duly noted that Orato received all the benefit here and there is no empirical evidence to suggest otherwise. Even with the onslaught of mainstream press coverage, active sex trade workers and longstanding sex worker organizations agree that nothing has really changed in Oldtown.

Even I was duped by Orato--not once--but twice. First, they used my name to promote their launch. Orato publicly announced that the women who dumped 67 pairs of shoes on the steps of City Hall was to be their Pickton citizen correspondent (which they received significant media coverage). When I began receiving numerous media calls, I contacted Orato editor Heather Wallace, who apologized to me. Later, during a break in the trial, Ms Wallace commissioned me to write a piece for Orato, since their expert writers, without the trial, according to Ms Wallace were having difficulty coming up with stories. Hm.

I agreed and wrote about the Cheryl Ann Joe murder of 1991 and how conditions have worsened in the Downtown Eastside, especially for survival sex trade workers. I have never
been compensated for this piece and I honestly feel Orato, exploited me. It was the only piece I ever wrote for Orato.

The well-read online blog, the Tyee, also has been jumping on the sex trade band-wagon of late. They profess to be investigative in nature, yet, I haven't seen one in-depth sex trade piece written by them.

In fact, they insulted the sex trade community by promoting what they call "a life story", written by an Orato writer, who happens to be a self-proclaimed abolitionist. Moreover, in the latest piece in today's Tyee, they provided links to other stories which appeared elsewhere. Talk about being lazy, and they claim to be a feisty one.

And speaking of feisty, the local Rape Relief organization since 2002 (post Pickton charges), has been all aflutter on the sex trade front. Previous to the Pickton case erupting, Rape Relief didn't provide direct sex trade services as part of their mandate. It's quite another matter now and one would be hard pressed to not find a story on the sex trade, without Rape Relief being quoted.

Sadly, their political abolitionist stance hasn't done anything to assist sex workers. Some may even say, their backwater feminist agenda, has created further harm.

Rape Relief has never involved itself in putting out bad date sheets ( a preventive measure) nor have they ever requested bad dates sheets from WISH, a longstanding and well respected sex trade organization, who puts out the sheets. Requesting these sheets, one might think would provide timely information to the Rape Relief membership. That is of course, only if their members are sex trade workers?

While on the Rape Relief topic, founder and prominent member, Lee Lakeman, another abolitionist-feminist has posted comments on the Orato message board requesting the Orato abolitionist writer, Trisha Baptie, join forces with Rape Relief. Ms Baptie who co-incidentally received coverage in the Tyee.

This reminds me of the Vancouver 80's, when the Shame the Johns of Mt Pleasant, invited right-winger Clint Eastwood to consider running for Mayor of Vancouver. It seems they were unhappy that progressive Mayor, Mike Harcourt, wasn't doing enough to rid the streets of the sex trade.

Speaking of social cleansing, I'm aghast that AWAN, (Aboriginal Women's Action Network) is parroting the same line 'prostituted women' used by Rape Relief and their leaders such as Janice Reymond, Sheila Jeffries and local leader, Lee Lakeman.

Really troubling is the term 'prostituted women'. Add aboriginal in between prostituted and women and it's even worse. This terminology is highly derogatory and it suggests that Aboriginal women are too dumb to make life-affirming decisions regarding health & welfare for their children and families.

The majority of aboriginal sex trade workers I have known made the choice between dying and living. They chose the latter for the sake of their children.

I cite the case of Cheryl Ann Joe, who on one cold winter evening in 1991, went onto the mean streets of the Downtown Eastside in order to obtain food for her hungry children. She met her unfortunate end at the hands of a crazed killer.

When AWAN says, "we demand the opportunity to raise our families within our traditional values", AWAN must stand in unity with aboriginal sex trade workers who also are trying to accomplish this same goal. Putting down aboriginal sex trade workers by referring to them as prostituted aboriginal women is demeaning and it doesn't help.

Aboriginal and non-aboriginal sex workers are placed at further risk, when groups such as AWAN and Rape Relief, who with limited or no sex trade lived experience, jump on the sex trade issue, however, through their misguided actions, assist in the creation of further harm.

By addressing this issue which places sex trade workers in a weakened position (which the Rape Relief and AWAN stances do) rather than from a place of strength, what is accomplished is the continuation of the status quo.

The Pickton case showcased at one end of the continum-of-violence , what happens when the status quo remains in place. Along this continum is the countless unreported harm which pre-date Pickton and will possibly post-date this genocide. That is only if we allow it.

One thing is certain, if the status quo prevails, sex trade workers will continue to be placed in harm's way.

Meanwhile, guilt money and further funding will flow.

What society can bank on, if as history has demonstrated in the past, that outpouring of concern--with attached funding--to unaccountable groups-- that nothing much changes. All that happens is the losses continue piling up.

Wonderful legacy isn't it folks?

As the Missing Women reward comes up for re-newel this Wednesday December 12, 2007, I plan to press for a substantial increase in reward money. I will be requesting an increase from $100,000 to $1 million dollars. I will ask that the city and province demand the federal government to ante up.

Many cases remain unsolved and many sex trade workers and their families continue to be harmed by society indifference.

I think this significant reward besides sending a clear message, will work to mend the fence.

No question, a huge rupture occurred in this City regarding sex worker violence and some form of resolution must be initiated to start our healing process.

We have an opportunity to turn the corner and this time, instead of neglect and indifference, let us stand together against all forms of victimization and violence.

Let's not allow the Pickton carnage and what will be his legacy become ours.

Jamie Lee Hamilton