Sex workers expect more business with B.C.'s restart plan moving into Phase 3

Phase 2 already includes strict guidelines for massage parlours and show lounges

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      Many people don’t realize that a fair number of sex workers are back on the job in British Columbia.

      That’s because health-enhancement centres and steam baths have been allowed to reopen under B.C.’s restart plan, provided these businesses meet critical safety requirements, including minimizing facial contact.

      There’s also a requirement for “hard screening” of clients and workers using the B.C. Centre for Disease Control’s self-assessment tool for COVID-19.

      Sue Davis, director of the B.C. Coalition for Experiential Communities, told the Straight by phone that her group spent about a month developing guidelines in consultation with WorkSafe B.C., Vancouver Coastal Health, Vancouver city staff, and the mayor’s office.

      “All the massage parlours around me are open,” Davis said. “I haven’t heard any complaints from operators about increased action or biased treatment—or people trying to close them down. Really, the top-down approach has kind of worked.”

      Part of the motivation, according to Davis, was that sex workers were ineligible to receive $2,000 per month in Canada Emergency Response Benefit payments. Even though these workers’ incomes were decimated by the pandemic, they couldn’t qualify for federal aid because the sale of sexual services is illegal under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.

      “They were going to be forced to go back to work regardless of whether or not safe work spaces were allowed to open,” Davis pointed out. “So did we think they would be safer in cars? Or in massage parlours or show lounges? Forcing people to the streets has always been a disaster.”

      Today, Premier John Horgan announced that the province is moving into Phase 3 of the restart plan.

      “For us, hopefully it will mean an increase in business, with nightclubs and larger venues opening up a bit more,” Davis said. “We benefit like lots of small businesses do from trends like that.”

      B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities director Sue Davis says that sex workers would have been forced to the streets if lounges and massage parlours hadn’t been allowed to reopen.

      In the meantime, the guidelines for show lounges and massage parlours are very detailed and cover everything from hand sanitizers to ensuring sufficient physical distancing in staff rooms.

      “Use of Personal Protective Equipment (masks, face shield, gloves) during sessions with clients is recommended,” the guideines state. “Face shields should be disinfected between appointments.”

      Davis said that a sex worker hasn’t been murdered by a client in Vancouver for 11 years. For that, she credits the enlightened approach of the Vancouver police. But it bothers her that the city still has a rule on the books banning window coverings for ground-level businesses.

      According to her, that leads clients to want to enter through back doors rather than the front entrance. “It’s so stupid,” Davis said.