PENINSULA ZOOMERS: Ending stigma of sex trade

Columnist April Lewis writes about sex workers and the need to be part of the conversation that ends the stigma.

This is not a column about sex.

You may recall that same opening line in my June, 2012 column, Forum spawns new ideas.

Well, this time, this is a column about sex; specifically sex workers.

I recently attended a production of The Hooker Monologues at the Firehall theatre in the middle of the downtown Eastside. Making my way through throngs of the disenfranchised, I entered the theatre for an opportunity to be part of the conversation surrounding the subject of sex work.

It is time to bring the discourse to the suburbs.

The Hooker Monologues is the brainchild of Raven Bowen, an activist currently pursuing her PhD, who advocates for sex workers’ rights. In this production, she seeks to show a human element in the personal stories shared by the cast of 10 women, who include current and past sex workers, as well as allies.

One cast member, Velvet, stated in a recent radio interview, “Sex workers are not expendable…we are people too.” As a professional dominatrix and transgendered woman, she is hoping the show will dispel the “ubiquitous images of women standing on street corners,” and erase the stigma surrounding the sex trade.

Carmen, an independent sex worker who specializes in tantric sex, has positive stories to share. She wants to dispel the myth that sex workers are “cold, jaded and armoured,” and that clients are “cruel, violent and perverted.” Her work with clients, who are often victims of trauma, is guided by compassion.

Maggie, a childrens’ author and teacher at UBC, is an ally in the cast. She has written a book, Missing Sarah, about her sister, who was one of the ‘missing women’ in the Vancouver Downtown Eastside; a victim of Robert Pickton.

In the play, Maggie has a dialogue with her sister, and quotes from Sarah’s journal which figures prominently in the book. Sarah was a street-level worker, addicted to drugs, who struggled just to survive.

Different women. Different stories. Different endings.

But they all want the same thing and that is to “unpack the word hooker” and come out of the shadows and stand up for their rights. They believe women have a right to choose and to be safe. As the demand for sex has remained unchanged, they are tired of being shamed and stigmatized by society.

They are working together to decriminalize prostitution, which has been a criminal act for centuries. In Canada, in 1972, it became illegal to solicit for the purposes of prostitution in a public place.

In 1985, residents of Vancouver’s West End lobbied to rid their neighbourhood of sex workers. This NIMBY trend continued until they were finally displaced and pushed to the Downtown Eastside, where they were further devalued and marginalized.

Sex workers fought to improve their lives by challenging the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and won two key cases: Canada v. Sex Workers United Against Violence/Kiselbach and Bedford v. Canada. The latter was lodged by three sex workers who won a unanimous Supreme Court decision that existing prostitution laws violated their rights to ‘security of person.’

The draconian Bill C-36 legislation, coupled with widespread ‘whore stigma’, discourages sex workers from engaging in public dialogues to improve their rights, safety and acceptance.

The Hooker Monologues is a creative way to change that and invites us all to be part of the conversation.

April Lewis is the local communications director for CARP, a national group committed to a ‘New Vision of Aging for Canada.’ She writes monthly.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce. (Contributed photo)
South Surrey and White Rock Chamber of Commerce to host virtual COVID-19 town hall

Online event to include local politicians and representatives from Fraser Health, WorkSafe BC

At least one person received life-threatening injuries when a car collided with a semi truck in South Surrey on Friday morning. (Brenda Anderson photo)
VIDEO: South Surrey crash sends one to hospital in critical condition

Road closures in effect after collison between car and semi-truck

Ben “Santa” Cohen visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale Dec. 4. Santa wished everyone a socially-distanced Merry Christmas out in front of the school. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
Santa visits Ecole Martha Currie in Cloverdale

First gig of the season for Ben ‘Santa’ Cohen; COVID driving most gigs online

Shawn Canil, a Cloverdale-area resident, turns heads with the truck he’s decorated for Christmas. (Photo: Tom Zillich)
Truck’s Christmas decorations lift spirits on Cloverdale man’s commute

‘When I see them smiling, I know it’s worth it,’ pickup driver Shawn Canil says

Gurbaz Singh, deli manager at the Cloverdale Country Market, arranges some gifts in the back of a vintage car. The car is part of the Cloverdale Country Market’s “December to Remember” picture taking area. The market is encouraging people to come down, snap some Christmas pics and share them on social media. (Photo: Malin Jordan)
PHOTOS: Cloverdale Country Market creates Christmas picture space

Market cancels annual Christmas Craft Fair, replaces it with Christmas picture zone

Pickleball game in Vancouver on Sunday, November 8, 2020. B.C.’s public health restrictions for COVID-19 have been extended to adult team sports, indoors and outside. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
711 more COVID-19 cases detected in B.C. Friday

‘Virus is not letting up and neither can we’

Demonstrators, organized by the Public Fishery Alliance, outside the downtown Vancouver offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada July 6 demand the marking of all hatchery chinook to allow for a sustainable public fishery while wild stocks recover. (Public Fishery Alliance Facebook photo)
Angry B.C. anglers see petition tabled in House of Commons

Salmon fishers demand better access to the healthy stocks in the public fishery

(Hotel Zed/Flytographer)
B.C. hotel grants couple 18 years of free stays after making baby on Valentines Day

Hotel Zed has announced a Kelowna couple has received free Valentines Day stays for next 18 years

Farmers raise slogans during a protest on a highway at the Delhi-Haryana state border, India, Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected the diplomatic scolding Canada’s envoy to India received on Friday for his recent comments in support of protesting Indian farmers. Tens of thousands of farmers have descended upon the borders of New Delhi to protest new farming laws that they say will open them to corporate exploitation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Trudeau brushes off India’s criticism for standing with farmers in anti-Modi protests

The High Commission of India in Ottawa had no comment when contacted Friday

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nurse Kath Olmstead prepares a shot as the world’s biggest study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway Monday, July 27, 2020, in Binghamton, N.Y. U.S. biotech firm Moderna says its vaccine is showing signs of producing lasting immunity to COVID-19, and that it will have as many as many as 125 million doses available by the end of March. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Hans Pennink
Canada orders more COVID vaccines, refines advice on first doses as cases reach 400K

Canada recorded its 300,000th case of COVID-19 on Nov. 16

Apartments are seen lit up in downtown Vancouver as people are encouraged to stay home during the global COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. British Columbia’s deputy provincial health officer says provincewide data show the most important area B.C. must tackle in its response to the COVID-19 pandemic is health inequity. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marissa Tiel
Age, income among top factors affecting well-being during pandemic, B.C. survey shows

Among respondents earning $20,000 a year or less, more than 41 per cent reported concern about food insecurity

Chilliwack General Hospital. (Jenna Hauck/ Progress file)
Chilliwack mother upset about son’s alleged suicide attempt after hospital discharge

Rhonda Clough said 34-year-old son suffering with bipolar disorder should have been kept in hospital

Victoria-based driving instructors are concerned for their own and the community’s safety with the continued number of residents from COVID hotspots in the Lower Mainland coming to the city to take their driving road tests. (Black Press Media file photo)
Students from COVID hotspots travel to Vancouver Island for driving tests

Union leader calls on government to institute stronger travel ban

Most Read