Escorts say sex co-op puts control over industry back in their
23, 2007 - 0:34 pm By: STEPHANIE LEVITZ
(CP) - The lonely escort girl in a leather skirt and stilettos
waiting vainly on the corner for a date isn't a typical image
associated with a member of a business co-operative.
is the busty blond escort leering out from the E section of
the telephone book. Group-owned and controlled by its members,
co-ops are the traditional purview of credit unions, farmers
a coalition of female escorts in Vancouver see no reason why
they can't join that list.
of unsafe working conditions, the B.C. Coalition of Experiential
Women is exploring the idea of starting a sex workers co-operative,
where the selling of sex and its accoutrements would be controlled
not by the need to pay off drug debts or pimp fees but by
the prostitutes themselves.
want it to be above board," said Raven Bowen, one of two authors
of Developing Capacity for Change, a report written to explore
the concept and need for a sex trade co-op in Vancouver.
whole idea is to pull the industry out from the shadows into
a more, not public, but legitimate environment."
the options being considered is an actual bricks-and-mortar
establishment that would offer a safe space for female escorts
to bring clients or act as a booking agency for their solicitation.
female Escorts said they could share the cost of marketing
and pool resources to buy supplies. Job training would be
provided, as would health and safety services.
would have its privileges, but the group intends for the services
of the co-op to be accessible to all tiers of the sex trade
- from the survival prostitute on the corner to the high-class
madam and her upscale courtesans.
report came out of a series of focus groups held with women
working in businesses called escort agencies or massage parlours
in the Yellow Pages but considered by many to be licensed
sellers of sex.
reaping thousands of dollars from the licensing of escort
services while politicians continue to balk at changing the
laws surrounding prostitution is the ultimate hypocrisy, said
John Lowman, a professor at Simon Fraser University who has
been researching prostitution law for 20 years.
talked to politicians who say 'well, we don't really know
what goes on in escort services,"' Lowman said.
which I've always responded well you better resign so someone
who is in touch with the realities of contemporary Canadian
society can take your place."
group behind the co-op said they could simply apply to be
a massage parlour or escort agency under city bylaws, but
they're not interested in running another clandestine brothel.
means they'll need exemptions from the law or face getting
charged by police.
example, said Sue Davis, the report's other author, the section
in the Criminal Code that prohibits living off the avails
of prostitution could have implications for a co-operatively
owned business in which part of the money the women make will
be funnelled back in.
a lot of legal questions we have to answer before we can move
ahead," Davis said. "But we have to do something to take control."
one from the city of Vancouver returned a call seeking comment
on the role bylaws would play in a sex-trade co-op, but gaining
exemptions from criminal law is all but impossible, said Prof.
Alan Young of Osgoode University, who is also handling a constitutional
challenge to the prostitution laws filed in Ontario last week.
Criminal Code would need to be amended or a constitutional
exemption would have to be granted in court.
can't just apply for exemptions from the law," Young said.
they can push at it, as in the Charter challenge, and hope
the courts make a change as advocates for the sex trade say
they're tired of banging their heads against the doors of
the House of Commons begging for new laws.
community has been so divided by the way lawyers and politicians
have controlled the sex trade," said Davis.
need to unite and start making the changes for ourselves."
activist Jamie Lee Hamilton tried to push back at the legislation
seven years ago.
opened Grandma's House, a not-for-profit society that offered
condoms, referrals, showers and food to prostitutes. And for
a fee, the workers could also use a room for their clients,
a space similar to what the co-op group is trying to achieve.
was arrested and charged with running a bawdy house and had
hoped to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, but
the charges were later dropped.
about providing safe spaces for women to work," Hamilton said.
has to be where it's not about profit but about people."
street prostitution is the public face of sex work, researchers
generally agree that 80 per cent of all prostitutes actually
ply their trade through indoor agencies, and it would be those
workers that the co-op would primarily target.
report found that female escorts often live a life of indentured
servitude to the agency or their pimp.
pay hefty fines for such transgressions as unmatched underwear
or dates who don't show up as promised.
of the escorts interviewed said they'd been fined or punished
for protecting themselves rather than providing services to
do they keep the money they make - escorts must shell out
for advertising, driver fees, security and laundry and have
little or no say on how the money is spent.
do crack down on escort agencies known to be breaking the
February, a joint RCMP-Vancouver police team arrested who
they believed was the most successful pimp operating in the
estimated her agency made more than a million dollars a year.
advocates argue that crackdowns on escort agencies only result
in more female escorts being on the street fending for them
selves and facing the dangers therein.
like the 26 prostitutes Robert Pickton is accused of killing.
this case, said Lowman, that proves that spaces like the co-op
and changes to law are literally life-saving.
much longer can we just fail our women like this?," he said.
"How many more people have to die?"