coop brothel- lies and mis-information harm-canada's first sex worker coop defamed

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susan davis susan davis's picture
coop brothel- lies and mis-information harm-canada's first sex worker coop defamed

Cooperative Brothel Enterprise

Past and present enforcement strategies have for the most part had no effect on the health and safety of communities where sex work occurs and has only served to displace street level sex work, tell sex workers where they can't work and caused violence, abductions and death of sex industry community members.

Sex workers in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver have expressed their need for a safe place to work. The most fundamental things enjoyed by Canadian workers such as a toilette to use while on shift or a place to wash after entertaining a client are not available to the sex workers in the east end.

The trial in the case of the missing women has put the spot light on the dangerous conditions that the sex workers on the street face every night and the sex workers themselves have called for the immediate stabilization of their safety.

An indoor venue where sex workers could bring their clients could greatly increase a sex workers ability to negotiate the terms of the work or refuse dangerous work. Sex Workers in the downtown east side are asking for the opportunity to demonstrate the impact we believe bringing the sex trade in off of the street will have on the health and safety of the entire community.

During the Living in Community Project which engaged all stake holders in designing an action plan to address the immediate issues facing communities and sex workers, residents and business owners impacted by street level sex work expressed their greatest complaints were:

  • The residual mess - condoms and other garbage
  • The public violence - every one agrees that the level of violence endured by survival sex workers is unacceptable.
  • sex in plain view - looking out your window and seeing sex workers and customers together.
  • Unwanted attention from sex consumers endured by women who are not sex workers
  • And their children being faced with sex workers on the street while out in the community or on the way to school

It is hoped that by bringing the trade in off the street these issues will be greatly impacted. With a place to dispose of condoms and to entertain clients out of the public eye, the health and safety of ALL community members it is hoped will be impacted.

This Safe Work Site will be completely designed by, owned by, profited from, voted on and controlled by the sex workers themselves and reflect what a safe work environment means to them.

Many people find the Coop Brothel concept difficult to understand. Questions about how profits will be shared and rumours of rounding up sex workers and corralling them have completely missed the basic principle of this idea. The coop will not be about profit sharing, it will be about sharing expenses.

Cooperative business models are designed to accommodate an identified common need within a community. The sex workers in the downtown eastside are the members of the sex industry community most directly impacted by uninformed actions and lack of safe work environments and of course they suffer the most violence and have the highest mortality rate. That is not to say that indoor sex industry workers don't feel the same impacts, it's just not at as high of a rate.

This common need of a safe work environment is the foundation of the cooperative brothel enterprise. So, the sex workers in the downtown east side agreed that together they could share expenses and afford to maintain such a space.

The discussion continued and it was decided that a steam bath business model or "rooms by the hour" was the best way to make it accessible to all. This business model allows a private space where technically 2 consenting adults could engage in the legal exchange of sex for money. Sex workers would meet their clients in the traditional ways like on the internet, through ads in the paper and on the street. They would then bring their client to the safe work site or meet him/her there and rent a room for the encounter. It is hoped that the rates can be kept to a minimum in order to make the rooms accessible, cheap and preferable to criminal charges.

The group decided sex workers would not have to be a coop member to access the site, but to vote on what to do with any profits membership would be required.

The discussion continued along the lines of what to do with any profits generated by the safe work space. For those of you who doubt it's sustainability, I once watched 6 different sex workers leave with 6 different clients within 10 minutes from 1 corner...even at $2 to rent a room that will add up!

Because the cooperative is a "for profit endeavour", I joked that we could vote to buy a hot tub or vote to take a trip to Las Vegas. The group light heartedly speculated on this for a while but then returned to things we as a community need. We discussed pensions and extended medical but most notably a scholarship fund for the children of dead sex workers. The generosity on selflessness of this community who have so little never ceases to amaze me.

An "Anti Brothel" campaign launched by abolitionist or "end sex work" groups has severely crippled our plans for this initiative. Reactionary reports of "Olympic Brothels" which lied about the intentions of this enterprise have turned into a far reaching campaign on going for more than a year. These groups are generously funded and have the resources to maintain their attacks stating everything from organized crime being in control of the brothel to how no first nations people were consulted.

This project reflects the diversity of the sex working community as it includes women, men and trans-individuals as well as those from different 'classes' and varying capacities and abilities. More specifically, sex workers engaged are multi-literate and culturally diverse. First Nations, Asian, Caucasian, Black workers and those of mixed race are currently invested.

Cooperative business models by their very nature are not controlled by any one person. The idea that organized crime would control the activities of the safe work site is ridiculous and inflammatory. These statements were intended to undermine public confidence in the safe work site and it's planned activities and it seems to have had some effect.

Article 22 in the International Charter of Human Rights defends a person from arbitrary attacks upon their honour and reputation. The effects of these attacks upon our ability to fulfill this objective are proof of why that provision exists in the Charter. We did enquire into legal recourse but unfortunately no lawyers were willing to risk engaging on our behalf. The Sex Industry Community is still not seen as a distinct culture and as a result we have difficulty defending our human rights on many levels.

Because of the systematic targeting and elimination of the safer indoor sex work venues and limited numbers of highly competed for jobs, sex workers in the downtown east side cannot find work in the safer indoor work environments. Why are sex industry workers within these high end escorting/massage venues seen as valuable and worth protecting? Do the workers on the street not deserve health, safety and dignity at work?

Article 1 of the Charter states all are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. Clearly this fundamental rule is being overlooked in many ways including what is described above.

Currently, we are on hold with this enterprise as we try to raise funds to see our plans through.

remind remind's picture

Thanks for the insight

susan davis susan davis's picture

no prob!!!tanx fer havin me!!!!Wink


Wouldn't providing free education in a trade or profession help them get out of the sex trade too?

susan davis susan davis's picture

absolutely, not everyone is in sex work by choice and need supports to exit successfully. however, to stop the slaughter we must do something pragmatic to stabilize sex workers in the dangerous street level trade, pretending it's not happening or refusing to find a solution based on a political opinion is killing us.

one of my friends has been a sex worker for 44 years and lives in the eastend. her language, while english is a very heavy street slang and it makes it difficult for her to communicate or maintain mainstream employement.also, complex PTSD resulting from 44 years in a war zone has made it difficult for her to break out of isolation. not to mention that she's 58 and shouldn't have to stand on a corner anymore...

which brings us to the other coop activities....


Sex work and art have always been intimately related. Most sex workers actively pursue art in the form of poetry, sketching, photography, fashion, painting and of course writing. This aspect of the cooperative has captured the imagination of the sex worker community with plans for the development of a play.

Sex workers will engage artists from the greater community to share techniques in a variety of artistic mediums, providing physical space for sex workers to engage in art, finding a way to collectively market sex worker art and ensuring the availability of tools for creating art.

This lighter side of community development has given sex workers hope and will provide positive forms of expression outside of what they are faced with their daily lives. This will also serve to build understanding between the greater community and the sex worker community.

This enterprise is currently on hold while we seek funding to take our objectives forward.


Publishing rights and the laws that govern intellectual property are complex. Vancouver sex workers express a general sense of distrust of the system at large when discussing matters of ownership of their writing and other artistic creations. Through engaging experts in the publishing field, sex workers plan to design a sex worker owned and controlled publishing company that will address their concerns and ensure that sex worker publications remain the property of sex workers.

This enterprise is currently on hold while we seek funding to take our objectives forward.


Sex Workers have been and continue to be one of the most vulnerable communities in our society. Many "solutions" to the barriers facing sex works, have failed to create any meaningful change and in some cases has caused wide spread harm. What these attempts at mitigating social ills that are all to often associated with sex work seldom acknowledge is that sex work itself is not the cause of these social problems; poverty on the other hand, is. The WCCSIP with support from continuing studies at SFU, endeavored provide a cooperative and practical solution to some of the barriers to socio-economic success through further development of the WCCSIP Consulting Enterprise. 

For years, sex industry workers in Vancouver have lectured at universities; trained police officers; trained middle and upper management for various government departments; educated secondary school students; worked with youth in detention; and acted as consultants to community organizations and other private institutions on matters related to sex work and  ways of providing meaningful supports to sex workers. Most of this work has been ad hoc and somewhat disorganized and the members of the newly formed Wes Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals had identified a number of steps they wished to take to improve the consulting services they've been offering.

Within the context of this, a group of sex industry workers worked collaboratively to: map existing resources; develop standardized presentation that incorporates lived experience, research and social theory; set rates of pay; identify potential audiences, customize specific materials for them and officially open the cooperative consulting enterprise.

On December 17th  ,2008- International End Violence Against Sex Workers Day- WCCSIP officially launched our consulting enterprise. A press release through the Canadian Press Corp. received some attention and members have had opportunities to deliver the presentation.

Sex Workers a rarely valued for our lived experiences however and many times are not offered pay. This remains a challenge for the consulting enterprise and as yet profits remain elusive. 

This enterprise has received funding from Simon Fraser University to create a standardized presentation as the foundation of this enterprise. A series of meetings were held to formalize the Consulting Enterprise Team, define the contents of the presentation and set the rate of pay for sex workers delivering the presentations.

It was decided that a rate of $50/hr with a minimum of 2 hrs was a fair rate of pay. The group also agreed that WCCSIP would be the payee and disperse funds to presenters. $40/hr to the presenter and $10/hr to the coop adimin. This will be paid in cash on the day of the presentation.

We do this for 2 reasons:

  1. to honour the knowledge and lived experience of sex industry workers and create alternative sources of income,
  2. to ensure people are not harmed as a result of presenting.

These presentations can be difficult especially when a presenter is sharing personal experiences or answering difficult questions from audiences. It can lead to a person being emotionally triggered. By ensuring cash payment on the day of the presentation, we hope to prevent people from taking unnecessary risks to find money for whatever coping mechanisms they employ.

The following outline reflects the contents of the body of the standardized presentation:

  • History
  • Culture
  • Strategic plan
  • Ethics and harm reduction
  • PTSD
  • Mental Health
  • First Nations
  • Impacts of Enforcement
  • Academics
  • Our Families and Our community - Separation/segregation
  • Feminist abolitionists
  • Touching/physical contact
  • Sex Industry diversity and gender inclusion
  • Selective enforcement
  • Hate crimes
  • Stigma - the impacts of shaming sex workers
  • Survival sex work vs. Adult consensual sex industry work - Sex industry work as a job and a choice

The presentation also includes a resource package including:

  • Info sheets on all of the above topics
  • Copies of the strategic plan
  • Symptoms of and tools for dealing with PTSD
  • Tools specific to the area in which the audience engages with the sex industry community
  • Techniques which respect the PTSD factor
  • Ways to break down segregation
  • Tools for ethical engagment of sex industry communities

The WCCSIP Consulting Enterprise would be happy to tailor a presentation specifically for your needs!

Please contact the Cooperative Development Coordinator for details.

[email protected]


 Sex workers expressed that being immersed in a foreign culture (not the street) when trying to adapt to mainstream employment made them feel isolated and outside of the community around them.

WCCSIP wish to design in depth business plans for opening and operating a café where sex workers wishing to exit sex work may receive training, build confidence, gain valuable work experience and return to mainstream employment in a way that respects their lived experience, is accessible and provides an alternative source of income.

Many organizations have formed catering companies as a way to generate funds. The lack of core financing for Non Profit Societies has long been a barrier to sex worker organizing. Too often sex worker priorities are dismissed as difficult to fund because funding envelops often are not accessible to emerging populations. It is plan that through all of these business endeavours the sex workers rights movement will be able to fund the actions we feel are a priority.

Also, the operating of this company could provide liveable wages for sex workers. Sex workers exiting the industry expressed that existing supports do not provide and opportunity for them to earn money and they are left with nothing but a resume. The experience of working and the many aspects of running businesses will give sex workers the skills and experience they need to work within the coop and compete for employment outside of the sex industry.

Objectives as listed in a recent proposal submitted to cooperatives secretariat;

1. To provide a co-operative solution to the wide range of barriers facing Canadian sex workers who  wish to exit the sex trade by creating viable, attainable, sex worker owned and controlled employment choices outside the sex industry through the development, planning  and the construction of a cafe.

2. To demonstrate how the co-operative business model could allow small localized groups of sex workers to come together as a community to define their choices as individuals and take control of their future by building sex worker community capacity through:

  • planning and operating the co-op café
  • defining the cafe in concrete business planning terms and implementing them.
  • learning about business practices related to the co-op cafe
  • gaining concrete marketable skills that can translate into alternative income choices and solutions for those who wish to exit the sex trade
  • building a sex worker owned and controlled café.

3. To document and share our knowledge, experiences, successes and failures with sex workers all over Canada; and.

4. To support sex workers all over Canada in coming together to explore these ideas and prioritize what they want/need as a community for themselves on a localized level.

This enterprise is currently on hold while we seek funding to take our objectives forward.


Thanks for the insight.

susan davis susan davis's picture

no problem!!!Embarassed


This is really interesting, Susan.  Thanks for posting.


P.S. I'm wondering whether this might fit better in either the feminism forum, or perhaps the labour forum.

susan davis susan davis's picture

where ever you feel is the best fit!!!thanks for your support!


susan davis

remind remind's picture

Maysie mover another along this same vien to the labour forum.


Yeah, I think the Labour forum would be good.