I've been following the investigation and online conversations about the recent deaths of Jill Lyons and Karen Nabors, and I'm very disturbed to see the press release Vancouver Rape Relief distributed late last night:
Date: Thursday, August 29, 2013
August 29, 2013 (Vancouver, BC) Our hearts go out to the families and friends of Jill Lyons and Karen Nabors.
The recent, sudden deaths of these two women within the same building have prompted a public discussion about the safety of women in indoor prostitution and has further exposed the entrenched sexism that informs the way that the police response to investigating violent crimes against women, especially women in prostitution.
We know from 40 years of working with women who have experienced all forms of male violence that the “foul play” suspected when a woman is found dead in her home is likely to have been perpetrated by a violent man. The Integrated Homicide Investigation Team has described Jill Lyons and Karen Nabors as engaged in a “high risk lifestyle.” The grim risk that these women faced was the same risk that all women in prostitution face: the violence perpetrated by pimps and johns. Women’s exposure to this risk is not a lifestyle choice—it is a result of women’s inequality and men’s violence. The public warning to women in prostitution to “take precautions” further shifts the blame off of the men who attack women in prostitution. This warning is dangerously misguided. It places the onus on women identify and fend off potential attackers.
Daisy Kler, a collective member with Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter explains:
“Male violence against prostituted women is a result of women’s inequality and men’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies. Our crisis work has taught us that this violence does not stop or lessen when the location changes. These two cases are frighteningly reminiscent of the murders of prostituted Vancouver women Lisa Arlene Francis, Hong Wei Yin, and Nicole Parisien, all of whom were killed as a result of being prostituted indoors. The only thing that will work to make women safe is the end of prostitution and the end of male violence against women.”
Media Contact: Lisa Steacy
To my reading, this smacks of exploitationism. The emotive "Our hearts go out" does little to mitigate the gratuitiously premature reframing of a tragedy according to the "logic" of abolitionist politics. Vancouver Rape Relief effectively treat these deaths as fodder, as an excuse to promote their political position. That's bad enough.
Worse, this press release
(a) presumes to know what happened to Ms. Lyons and Ms. Nabors;
(b) suggests that these women died from "the violence perpetrated by pimps and johns" – thus framing their murder in terms of sex work, and framing prematurely alleged murderers in terms of sex work;
(c) dismisses these presumed victims' lives and work as "a result of women’s inequality and men’s violence";
(d) claims that the only solution to this tragedy is Vancouver Rape Relief's abolitionist advocacy toward the "end of prostitution and the end of male violence against women.”
(e) does all of the above in the name of VRR's work and VRR's "40 years" of experience.
So it seems to me that Vancouver Rape Relief are taking advantage of a high profile news story involving the tragic death of two women (who happened to be prostitutes or sex workers) merely to amplify their own voice. They devote 27 words to Lyons and Nabors in order to devote 292 words to promoting their own agenda. This is the epitome of carelessness toward two women whose death is still a shock to their loved ones, two women whose deaths are just beginning to be investigated, two women whose deaths have only begun to reverberate through the community. More importantly, it is an affront to their lives. The lives of two real people, two recently living women whose deaths call for anything but ideological opportunism.
Vancouver Rape Relief's statement reproduces the stigmatizing framing that begins with the police department's statements and is amplified by the mainstream media. It exacerbates this framing by suggesting that the only real frame is the experience of Ms. Stacy, Ms. Kler, and their collective. This is disrespectful and irresponsible regardless of whether their expectations re the cause of Ms. Lyons and/or Ms. Nabors deaths turns out to be true. Regardless of what happened to these women, taking advantage of tragedy just to promote your own controversial political agenda is irresponsible, disgraceful, and, to borrow a word that Vancouver Rape Relief tweets far too often, this press release is worthy of shame, especially from a feminist perspective.
One would thing that the experience of Ms. Kler, Ms. Stacy, and the members of Vancouver Rape Relief would lead them to put the dignity of women first. Here, Vancouver Rape Relief prefers to take advantage of the tragic demise of (not just two but five) women in order to put VRR's voice over these these women's dignity, over these women's lives, and most tragically, over these women's deaths. So, yes: Shame on you, Vancouver Rape Relief.
Is this feminist politics? Radical feminist politics? Abolitionist politics? Whatever form of politics this might be, it's appalling.