Two recent pellet-gun attacks on Vancouver sex-trade workers are not big news to Kate Gibson, executive director of the Women's Information and Safe House (WISH). On the August 2 Bad Date Report, a weekly memo of workers' statements about violent johns, an anonymous woman reported the latest attack. Three vehicles travelling together, carrying several under-25 men, approached a worker at Broadway and St. Catherines Street. They fired pellet guns at the worker, drove off, came back around and yelled at her, left, then came back and shot her 23 times, breaking her skin.
“This sort of thing goes on all the time,” Gibson told the Straight. “People come down and throw things at the women””pennies, cans of beer””or they yell at them. I think everyone needs to look at it in the bigger picture of violence against women. It's just brutal. Just awful.”
Earlier in the month, Gibson said, a client reported that a pellet-gun sniper shot working women near Hastings and Jackson streets from a rooftop. Gibson described the bad-date sheet as just a small percentage of the violence meted out on Vancouver's street-level sex workers.
For more than a decade, the reports were administered by the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society. WISH took them over last year, and now the B.C. Coalition of Experiential Women has initiated a project to expand and standardize them this summer. The sheets have become a model for agencies as far away as Halifax, Gibson said.
In the context of a national debate about prostitution, these weekly briefings are a running record of the danger of sex work. In a June 2006 report by Vancouver's Pivot Legal Society, the authors argue that decriminalization “is the first step towards a shift in the status quo, where sex workers are subject to extreme levels of violence” .
However, REAL Women of Canada, a conservative lobby group, argues that prostitution should be further criminalized. “As a prostitute sells sex as a service to a customer, the dignity of the women and men is demeaned, allowing the customer to buy the right to treat another person as an object,” reads REAL Women's statement on prostitution.