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.