Vancouver- Today, Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (SWUAV) and Pivot Legal Society launched a new initiative to educate sex workers about the Vancouver Police Department’s Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines and encourage reporting of police misconduct.
The “Know Your Rights” card explains how the VPD’s new Guidelines, which became official policy on January 15, 2013, require officers to prioritize sex workers’ safety over the enforcement of the prostitution laws. The rights card advises sex workers that the “POLICE SHOULD NOT harass, target, arrest or intimidate you for doing sex work.”
“Police harassment and the possibility of arrest for prostitution-related offences forces sex workers into very dangerous work environments, and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for sex workers to access police protection if they experience violence and abuse,” says Katrina Pacey, Pivot lawyer and counsel for SWUAV. “This policy represents a very important shift in policing priorities, which we hope will have a real impact on sex workers’ lives in Vancouver.”
The card encourages sex workers to contact an organization that they trust or the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner to file a formal police complaint if they are harassed, targeted, intimidated, followed, told to move along or arrested by police for prostitution-related offences.
“We are really happy that this policy is in place, but SWUAV members are worried that the beat cops will ignore the guidelines and continue to harass and intimidate our sisters on the street,” said DJ Joe, co-founder of SWUAV. “Our hope is that by educating sex workers about the policy and the process for making a police complaint, we are sending a message that we are watching the police and, if we need to, we will take action to hold them to account.”
In the hopes that other departments will learn from the Vancouver experience, Pivot and SWUAV have also written to RCMP and municipal police departments across Canada, encouraging them to engage local sex workers to development of a similar policy.
Following the release of the card, SWUAV’s outreach team will be distributing the card to women throughout the Downtown Eastside and to organizations that serve women involved in sex work.
The “Know Your Rights” card can be downloaded here: http://bit.ly/V6LAho
The policy can be found here: http://vancouver.ca/police/assets/pdf/reports-policies/sex-enforcement-guidelines.pdf
For comment: Katrina Pacey, 604 729 7849
Using the law as a catalyst for positive social change, Pivot Legal Society works to improve the lives of marginalized communities.