A new campaign has been launched in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to help educate sex workers about what their rights are when dealing with police.
The initiative will see small cards bearing information about the Vancouver Police Department’s new policy on sex-work enforcement distributed to women in the neighbourhood, Pivot Legal Society and Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence announced today (February 27).
The cards explain that the police guidelines make the safety of sex workers a priority and that officers should not harass women doing sex work. The cards also encourage sex workers who want to complain about police conduct to contact a trusted Downtown Eastside group like Pivot.
“They’re designed to fit into a back pocket or into a wallet,” Pivot lawyer Katrina Pacey said during a news conference. “The idea is that sex workers can read it. It provides a simple message that hopefully will empower sex workers to understand what their rights are and therefore be able to go out and live more safely in their communities.”
The English-language cards are to be distributed to women and organizations in the Downtown Eastside. Two thousand cards have been printed so far.
“I’m hoping that the message will get across with the police and with the women to make it a lot safer out there for them,” DJ Joe, a spokesperson for Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence, told reporters. “It’s hard enough for us out there when we’re working, and I’m just hoping that we get a lot of support on this.”
Introduced in January, the Vancouver Police Department’s sex work enforcement guidelines identify the safety of sex workers as a priority for officers and assert that any reports of violence against sex workers should be investigated immediately.
“They were the product of many months of effort on behalf of the department in conjunction with sex worker organizations and community based advocates who were really asking the department to shift its priority away from enforcement of the prostitution laws and to instead prioritize and make sure that sex worker safety is at the forefront of police efforts,” Pacey said of the guidelines.
Pivot Legal Society has also written to the RCMP and police chiefs in major cities across Canada to encourage them to adopt policies similar to the new Vancouver police guidelines.