Vancouver: ‘Our women are not for sale’

http://www.vancouversun.com
VANCOUVER SUN
MAY 30, 2009
DAPHNE BRAMHAM

Relentless advocate is one of many voices calling for end to prostitution

[photo caption]
Trisha Baptie, a former sex worker, is fighting to bring an end to prostitution and sex slavery.
Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

Trisha Baptie’s life story reads like the template of many who end up in Vancouver’s sex trade — addiction, foster care, sexual abuse and the eventual slide from the higher end hooker strolls into the Downtown Eastside.

At 18, she was on “the whore tour,” making the resort round of Kamloops, Kelowna, Penticton and Vernon before landing back in Vancouver. By 21 and past her prime, Baptie was on the most dangerous corners in the city and was once taken to Willie Pickton’s farm by a “date.” She knew some of the women Pickton murdered.

In total, she spent 15 years working indoors and outdoors in licensed and unlicensed parts of the sex business.

After addictions treatment and leaving the street, Baptie sat through Pickton’s trial in 2007 as a citizen journalist, reporting on what she heard, saw and felt.

“It was a year-long funeral,” she says. “These were my friends and now there I was sitting there looking at pictures with markers showing where all of their DNA was found on the walls and on lipsticks. I’ll never forget the first day when we finally learned where the body parts were found … the hands in the buckets.

“It makes you say a prayer of gratitude.”

Now 35, Baptie is one of the fiercest, most articulate and credible voices calling for abolition of prostitution and sex slavery.

She and many others want Canada to follow the example set by Sweden and Norway. But that’s not going to happen; at least not in time for next year’s Olympics. Meantime, they plan to do what they can to dampen demand in a city that already has an international reputation as a sex-tourism destination and more than 100 “missing” women.

Baptie is part of a campaign called “Buying Sex Is Not A Sport” aimed at discouraging pimps from stocking up on prostituted women, girls and men before 2010 and discouraging Olympic visitors from buying their services.

“Let’s say welcome to our city, our women are not for sale,” she says. “I’d love to have Vanoc say that this is not a sex-tourism destination and our women are not for sale.”

The campaign is just one of several being waged by groups ranging from radical feminist organizations to conservative church groups, who want part of Vancouver’s Olympic legacy to be an end to an old sporting tradition. That tradition is a surge in demand for sexual services wherever large, international sporting events take place.

The B.C. government’s office to combat trafficking in persons is also involved. It’s co-sponsoring a public awareness campaign with the Salvation Army that highlights the link between human trafficking and prostitution. But its message, “The Truth Isn’t Sexy,” pales next to the bluntness of the British government’s campaign.

Launched last summer — four years ahead of the London Summer Games — its “blue blindfold campaign” has posters with messages like: “Walk In A Punter [a client], Walk Out A Rapist.”

The intent of the “Buying Sex Is Not A Sport” campaign is to interfere with the sex trade and put the focus on the men who buy sex.

“If you ask most prostituted women, we can tell you that men know we do not want to be there,” says Baptie. “Usually, the very first thing men make us say is, ‘Tell me how much you like it.’

“Under any other circumstances it would have been rape, would have been sexual assault with a weapon. But because of the money, none of that was the case.”

If prostitution isn’t violence against women, Baptie questions why safety tips for Australian prostitutes include: “If you have to defend yourself, do it with the intention of hurting,” and don’t use a topical anesthetic for penetrative sex because it will mask any new injury and could numb the client’s penis.

Baptie wants the debate to be reframed and the men using prostitutes to be forced into it.

“Maybe if we stop the argument of whether women want to be prostituted and stopped pitting current prostitutes against former prostitutes, outdoor prostitute against indoor prostitute, drug addict against Gucci addict; if we stop that argument, the real question can be asked,” Baptie says.

“Do we, as a society, want men to be able to purchase sexual access to a woman’s body?”

So far, the federal and provincial governments are staying well clear of that question. Vanoc won’t talk about it at all.

dbramham@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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