Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rights Not Rescue

The Salvation Army Saga continues. When my dad told me the other day that if we didn't want the dishes he was offering, he'd just drop them off at the Sally Ann, I scoffed. "Don't support the Salvation Army!" I said. He looked at me incredulously. Obviously he must like the Salvation Army.

"Why not?" he asked through slightly clenched teeth.

So I launched into my diatribe of how the Salvation army is using scare tactics to drive up funding for a program they have no reason to create, considering there are many, more qualified groups already tackling this issue. And that despite many sex workers' letters explaining the offense of their campaign, rather than listening to us, they say we are "threatening them."

I waited for my dad's reaction. Would he try to defend the SA? Would he agree with me. I wasn't sure. While my parents profess to love me dearly, they quietly tolerate my passion for sex industry activism.

But my dad came through for me. He said the Salvation Army has a mandate to not get political. He expressed extreme disappointment in the news of their change of philosophy. And he thanked me for letting him know because he would not support SA again until they stopped this idiocy. He said to me, "It's probably just one main guy in the organization who's destroying it."

I love my dad. (And he's probably right.)

The latest in a series of disturbing articles was particularly alarming to me. For it focused on a woman who claims to have been trafficked through brothels posing as strip clubs. Here is the article from the Globe and Mail:

Salvation Army in Battle Over Prostitution
By Jane Armstrong

Vancouver From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

Timea Nagy was 20 when she answered a help-wanted listing in her native Hungary seeking nannies to work in Canada. The flight and travel arrangements were all paid and it seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime.

It turned into an unthinkable nightmare. The arrangement was, in fact, a human trafficking operation. There was no happy family at the Toronto airport to greet Ms. Nagy. Instead, three men – one Canadian and two Hungarians – whisked her to an Etobicoke motel, handed her some skimpy lingerie and drove her to a strip club, where she was forced to dance and perform sexual favours for male customers.

Over the next two months, Ms. Nagy was sexually attacked by her agent and verbally threatened by his associates, who forced her to work day and night in strip clubs and massage parlours, which were fronts for brothels. All her earnings – more than $2,000 a week – were confiscated by her captors.

She and four other Hungarian women were moved from motel to motel, and the men warned them that they would hurt or kill family members back home if they tried to escape.

“It's not like they chained you up,” Ms. Nagy, 32, said in a recent interview. “They didn't have to. They threatened us every single day. They said, ‘We'll burn your mother's house down. We have her address.'”

Eventually, Ms. Nagy overcame her fears and escaped, and was able to turn her life around. Today, she works for the Salvation Army as a counsellor helping trafficking victims.

Her story will soon be featured in an aggressive – and controversial – awareness campaign launched by the Christian church and social services agency against human trafficking. The campaign features graphic photos of young women being abused and degraded. Some of these posters have been draped in men's bathrooms in Vancouver bars.

The Salvation Army has also announced plans to set up a Vancouver shelter – the first of its kind in Canada – for trafficking victims. The 10-bed facility, which will open this fall, will be staffed 24 hours a day. The church says the shelter is needed in part because it believes the Olympics will cause a spike in human trafficking. It doesn't have hard data but notes that, in the past, large sporting events have prompted such an increase.

“I know we don't have numbers, but my gut tells me this is happening, probably a lot more than we even know,” said the Salvation Army's Major Winn Blackman.

Human trafficking experts, sexual assault centres and aboriginal groups have applauded the new shelter, saying it's badly needed and overdue.

But the Salvation Army's campaign has drawn scorn from some prostitutes, and reopened the angry debate between those who want to legalize all aspects of prostitution, and abolitionists, who say it degrades and endangers vulnerable women. Critics say the Salvation Army, which wants to end all forms of prostitution, is fear mongering when it asserts the Olympics will increase the demand.

They say there is no evidence that large sporting events necessarily lead to more prostitution. And they have accused the Salvation Army of exaggerating the scope of human trafficking in Canada to advance its abolitionist agenda. Prostitution is legal in Canada, but it's a crime to solicit for the purposes of prostitution.

“It's one of those shock-and-awe campaigns,” said lawyer Karen Mirsky of the Pivot Legal Society, which advocates for Vancouver's poor and marginalized.

Ms. Mirsky said the awareness campaign was designed to “generate an emotional response.” She cited a recent study, paid for by the provincial government, which suggested there will be no surge in prostitution during the 2010 Winter Games. From strictly a business perspective, it said, the prospect of bringing women to the Vancouver area for a two-week sporting event isn't cost effective.

“What is far more likely is you will have women in the sex trade voluntarily coming here because they perceive more business,” Ms. Mirsky said. “That's mobility. That's not trafficking.”

One Vancouver sex worker, Sue Davis, said the Salvation Army campaign demonizes prostitution and encourages police raids, which drive sex workers underground. Ms. Davis, 41, said abolitionists are attempting to create panic by suggesting that hordes of prostitutes will descend on Vancouver for the Games. She said legalizing all aspects of prostitution – including licensing safe brothels – would make life safer for sex workers.

But the Salvation Army and many women's groups disagree. Lee Lakeman, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, said she's seen an increase in the last five years of trafficked women who flee to shelters to escape captors.

Meanwhile, Maj. Blackman said the church has received reports in the Vancouver area that attempts have already begun to lure women and girls into prostitution. “We can only assume that this is [related] to the Olympics,” she said.

Ms. Nagy said her harrowing story is proof that human trafficking exists and that victims are terrorized into silence. She escaped her captors a decade ago with the help of a sympathetic bouncer at a strip club where she worked. Ms. Nagy took her story to the police and was eventually granted permanent residency in Canada.

She believes the Salvation Army shelter will save lives and that its awareness campaign will set the tone in Vancouver by telling visitors it's not okay to sexually exploit women and children.

Ms. Nagy said she hopes her story will persuade the public that human trafficking is widespread. “The reason why there is no data,” she said, “is because it's designed from beginning to end to make sure the women are always in a state of fear.”


There are many problems with this article, although it is written well and I can hardly blame the journalist, since she likely does not know the politics behind this particular issue. But I will address the issues one at a time.

Issue #1: Trafficking Houses Disguised as Strip Clubs

I have never worked in a strip club that was trafficking women or forcing them to work there using threats and abuse. Nor have I ever met an exotic dancer who was in this predicament. (I'm very outgoing and talked at length with most of the dancers I worked with over 7 years, especially about stripping and stigma.)

Nor have I ever received an email in the last almost ten years of running from a dancer who was forced into the industry. If there are strip clubs that are doing this, then why aren't those strip clubs being targeted by enforcement and closed down? Honestly, I'm completely confused.

Many strip clubs in BC have been targeted and closed down, but none of them have been involved in trafficking women. They are legitimately booked by exotic dance agencies that are licensed and can be easily tracked and investigated. I know many of the agents personally and although some of them are jerks, they are not human traffickers.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen. Maybe it does. And I believe due to the structure of the industry in Ontario, as compared to British Columbia, there is probably a higher chance of this happening there. However, I cannot understand how strip clubs could be involved in something like this without getting closed down.

If Rape Relief has had an increase in housing trafficked women, I'd like to know which businesses they are reporting to police as alleged traffickers. I'd like to know which strip clubs are involved, so that I can be sure not to promote them on my website. Why haven't any of these strip clubs been closed down and exposed for being human traffickers?

If trafficking is as big a problem in the sex industry in Canada, as they say, then you'd think the workers would have an inkling about it. Afterall, we're the ones working in the strip clubs and massage parlours.

We circulated the Trade Secrets questionairres far and wide across Canada and 60 respondents answered a question about how they got into the sex industry. Not one was trafficked. Like I said before, I'm not saying it does not happen. But it's not a freaking epidemic, like they suggest. At least, not from my experience.

Issue #2: Lack of "Hard Data"

When people lack "hard data" aka "credible evidence," but proceed to launch an expensive, fear-mongering campaign like the one SA is launching, there are only three possible motives: RELIGIOUS FANATICISM. HATRED. and MONEY. I would venture to say that this particular campaign combines all three motives. I can feel the hatred from the religious fanatics by the fact that they never answered my email. I am not even worthy of their time. Although I am presumably one of the abused, trafficked souls they seek to rescue.

Issue #3: Duplicating Services

SA is barging in on an issue they have no experience with. This in itself is an insult to the sex worker rights movement, where there are in-depth, ongoing efforts to reduce and eliminate unsafe workspaces and exploitation. It is condescending, judgemental, and overall very un-Christian-like.

Issue #4: Sex Industry Human Trafficking Experts

This article says: "Human trafficking experts, sexual assault centres and aboriginal groups have applauded the new shelter, saying it's badly needed and overdue." Exactly how to does one become a "human trafficking expert," I wonder. Would you need to be someone who has actually worked in the sex industry and studied trafficking in the industry extensively resulting in "hard data"?

Or does a loud man-hating man who's written a book (Victor Malarek) or a UBC Professor who wrote a report twisting evidence from previous reports to support his case (Benjamin Perrin) make a human trafficking expert?

Ben Perrin is the one who said this: "This a pro-brothel lobby group whose business is threatened by individuals who try to help people exit the sex trade and who try to confront exploitive pimps and traffickers." Hmmm, I guess he's just ignoring all the work we've done to help people exit the sex industry and escape exploitive pimps and traffickers. That's not very nice. (Or maybe the "expert" isn't an "expert" afterall.)

How about those who have been trafficked. Wouldn't they be the ones who are really the experts? Where are they? I've heard of one (in the above article) who was trafficked through a criminal network in Ontario. But where are the threats in BC, where the campaign is targeted?

"Sexual Assault Centres" actually refers to just one in particular - Rape Relief Vancouver. How pathetic that they've created this "group" called the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres. If this group really exists and is not a figment of her imagination made up to create the illusion that they have more support than they do, they're probably pissed off at her for speaking as their spokesperson. Lee Lakeman and Rape Relief Vancouver are known abolitionist activists - known not only for their hatred of sex industry workers and men, but for transgendered persons as well. What a credible source, eh? A bunch of radical, feminazi's who exclude sex workers from their forums on "prostitution." Well, why don't a bunch of us white girls hold a forum on racism and not invite anyone black to the table. Then we could be just like Rape Relief Vancouver - a bunch of bitchy hypocrites.

"Aboriginal groups" likewise refers to one group in particular. AWAN. A known ally of Rape Relief Vancouver and another full-of-hate and discrimination abolitionist group. For readers who are not aware, there are MANY MORE sexual assault centres and aboriginal groups who either don't get involved in politics and / or DO NOT support the SA campaign. Many of us actually have been sex workers too. But I guess that's not a qualification in the straight world.

Apparently if you don't agree with the abolitionists and you have sex industry experience, you are automatically a pimp and trafficker.

To a lesser extent, there are other problems with this article. It says that sex work advocates want legalization. We actually want decriminalization - and there is a difference. Maj. Blackman receiving "reports" of women and children being lured into the sex industry (assumably because of 2010) is interesting. Why exactly is he the one receiving the reports rather than the VPD (who by the way are part of an action group to address trafficking in the sex industry in Vancouver)?

And may I venture a hypothesis, that women and children are being lured into the sex industry by a major pimp called POVERTY and by targeting and shaming the johns, SA is chasing the good customers away and giving free rein to the violent criminals who don't give a shit about their fear-mongering campaign anyway? Let's use some common sense here, people.

Let me re-iterate a quote by Karen Mirsky of PIVOT Legal Society from the article: “What is far more likely is you will have women in the sex trade voluntarily coming here because they perceive more business,” Ms. Mirsky said. “That's mobility. That's not trafficking.”

Kudos to the "sympathetic bouncer" who helped Ms. Nagy escape. Shocking! A compassionate move from the "pro-prostitution" league.

"This is a bold step for the Salvation Army," says Brian Venables, a Salvation Army spokesperson and chief architect of the campaign.

(Thanks for the wise assessment, Dad. I think we found our "main guy.")

Now, I wonder if he'll agree to a sit-down to hear our demands. Because we certainly have a few. We want rights, not rescue, asshole. If you want to be a white knight, get your ass in front row and buy a $6 beer like the rest of them.

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Rodney said...

I was raised in the christian church.

I know that that like any religion, christianities philosophically extreme elements often get a burr under their saddles to say the least.

I agree that the misguided souls should just buy a beer and come cheer with the rest of us in the front row.

Then they might know what they are talking about. I know my first night out opened my eyes that these are not simply sexy bodies moving around on stage.

Planitcitizen said...

I would like to know that criminal charges (leading to justice and interpol records and deportations of these two Hungarians) and for the Canadian, were undertaken in response to these original claims, and the Etobicoke? club where this slavery took place challenged.

If the SA truly purports to be a salvation they should serve the ending of repression of individuals without judgement, provide for freedom from want, and protection of those needing it from the abuses of others, deviant bullymen, including errant governments and their ramifying ancillaries. Let us not let mispeaking, eogism and empire building, and misunderstanding blur our shared shock and dismay of these kinds of allegations and our desire to put things right.

Your eloquent and elegant reposte is most welcomed.

It should help myself, the SA and other Canadians understand that in our quest for civil liberty, personal/public safety, meaningful service, and emergency intervention we must dismantle our inadequate freedom, our illusory biases, and stereotyping to avoid trampling further on the rights of others and ourselves. But will we?