SWAN Vancouver (SWAN), along with advocates, sex work support organizations and researchers, is calling for Richmond city councillors to oppose actions against massage parlours and escort businesses that would harm and endanger workers. On November 15, 2023, Richmond City Council’s Community Safety Committee passed Coun. Kash Heed’s motion that staff come back with a plan using City Bylaws regarding property use and business licences to deal with escort services, and above and below ground body rubs.
“This Committee is considering imposing dangerous policies on systemically marginalized people under the guise of protection. When you conflate sex work with trafficking, you disregard someone’s choice to earn a living by working at a massage parlour, and inaccurately paint them as victims to fulfill your moral agenda. Using bylaws to close down these establishments will only push the im/migrant women SWAN Vancouver supports into riskier situations. It will not eradicate sex work and it’s a wasteful use of City of Richmond resources. If City Council is really interested in protecting massage parlour workers, it should take steps to ensure they can continue to work in a safe environment.” – Angela Wu, Executive Director, SWAN Vancouver
“Evidence has thoroughly debunked the myth that indoor sex work venues are hotspots for exploitation or human trafficking; evidence shows that many harms experienced in these workplaces are associated with the criminalization of sex work in Canada and the limitations on occupational health and safety that result from such criminalization. If the City of Richmond wants to support the health, safety, and security of sex workers, they must engage sex workers directly in order to determine how to ensure that these workers have access to relevant occupational health services, reporting systems for violations of employment standards, and secure and supported access to criminal justice systems – like all other workers in Canada.” – Sylvia Machat, independent research consultant specializing in occupational health and safety of sex workers
“I encourage Coun. Heed and the Community Safety Committee to have a discussion with the women employed in the massage businesses, the business owners and outreach workers who have been providing services for over 15 years, in order to understand how stringent property use regulations are counter-productive to increasing safety. I also encourage the Community Safety Committee to follow the example of the City of New Westminster, which for the past year, has engaged community to develop a framework for sex worker safety.” – Alison Clancey, National Director, Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women Canada
“No amount of legislation has made sex work disappear, and no amount of legislation ever will. What it has done is made sex workers more unsafe. Trying to rid your community of body rub parlours will only drive that work further underground and risk the safety of those simply trying to make a living. Sex workers are members of the community at large whether or not you approve of the work they do. Sex work isn’t a moral or ethical issue to be debated or outlawed, it’s a labour issue and should be treated as such.” – Kit Rothschild, Community Co-ED, PACE Society.
“Since 2010, the AESHA project has engaged with over 900 sex workers in Metro Vancouver, including more than 300 indoor workers. Our research reveals how fears regarding policing and workplace inspections undermine the health and safety of im/migrant sex workers, most of whom work in massage parlors. This year, we completed in-depth interviews with 22 massage parlour workers. Aligned with existing local and international research, participants highlight that community and peer support within their workplace plays a crucial role in promoting access to health services and sexual health supplies, and addressing violence. Based on the lived experiences of our research participants, we are deeply concerned by the use of bylaws to close down massage parlours, that so many im/migrant sex workers rely on for essential resources. Any additional punitive measures are sure to have detrimental consequences on im/migrant sex workers’ health, safety, and access to peer support.” – Ran Hu, Postdoctoral researcher, An Evaluation of Sex Workers Health Access (AESHA)
“The root causes of violence and vulnerability are poverty, criminalization, colonization, racism, and systemic barriers to accessing services. If City Council is concerned about the safety and security of sex workers, we encourage a human rights-based approach of upholding workers’ rights and removing barriers to workers accessing the services, programs, and supports that they choose for themselves.” – Halena Seiferling, Executive Director, Living in Community
“We have grave concerns that the Community Safety Committee’s proposed action is yet another in a long line of laws and policies that purport to “help” sex workers while ultimately causing harm and perpetuating stigma. The City’s proposed actions will have demonstrable and disproportionate impacts on the rights, health, well-being, and safety of im/migrant sex workers in the City of Richmond. We hope the City of Richmond will take this opportunity to learn about the occupational health and safety needs of indoor sex workers from those most impacted.” – Raji Mangat, Executive Director, West Coast LEAF
SWAN Vancouver expressed our concerns and invited city councillors to learn more about the women we support in emails sent on November 24, 2023. We have only received one reply. We urge city councillors to engage with us ahead of the December 12, 2023, Community Safety Committee meeting.
Available for interviews:
Angela Wu, Executive Director, SWAN Vancouver
To book an interview contact:
Crystal Laderas, Communications Manager, SWAN Vancouver
SWAN Vancouver promotes the rights, health, and safety of im/migrant women engaged in indoor sex work through front-line service and advocacy. The organization grew out of a pilot project that provided safer sex supplies to massage businesses. Over the last 20 years SWAN extended its services to address healthcare, immigration, safety and other concerns.