Enforcement against sex workers to be used as a 'last resort,' VPD report says


VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver police board will consider next week adopting new sex worker enforcement guidelines that will encourage officers to treat sex trade workers with dignity and respect in order to build relationships and increase the safety and protection of vulnerable women working the streets.

"The VPD does not seek to increase the inherent dangers faced by sex trade workers, especially survival sex workers," says the report by VPD Deputy Chief Warren Lemcke.

"Therefore, where there are nuisance related complaints against survival sex workers, alternative measures and assistance must be considered with enforcement as a last resort."

"Historically, there has little trust between sex workers and the police," the report said, explaining the reasoning for the new approach.

It added that "indiscriminate enforcement of the prostitution laws can undermine sex trade workers' relationships with police and decrease their ability to reach out to police for help."

The new guidelines come after concerns have been raised at the Missing Women inquiry about sex trade workers not wanting to report rapes and other violence by customers because of fear of being arrested or experiencing discrimination by police.

The inquiry, which resumes April 2, is looking at why police didn't catch serial killer Robert Pickton sooner.

Pickton preyed on drug-addicted sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and is believed to have killed 49 women before he was arrested in 2002.

"The VPD values building relationships with those involved in the sex industry in order to increase the safety of workers, reduce victimization and violence and, where appropriate (such as with children and teens) to assist with exit strategies," said Lemcke's report, which will be presented to the police board for discussion next Wednesday.

The report said the VPD will still respond to community complaints and consider enforcement action, but acknowledges that "enforcement action is sometimes at odds with relationship building, though both are necessary as part of a comprehensive approach to policing."

The new guidelines recommend enforcement action that "will be the least minimally intrusive strategy to keep both the sex worker(s) safe and mitigate the issue."

Kate Gibson, executive director of the WISH Drop-in Centre for sex workers, said the new strategy sends a clear message to sex workers and officers on the street about the force trying to boost trust.

"It's a good thing because it sends a clear message to officers on the beat and in cars," she said Friday. "What we really need to do is focus on the perpetrators."

She said new VPD guidelines may be the first of their kind across Canada.

The proposed enforcement strategy is called ICEEE, which stands for "investigate, communicate, educate, enforcement and exit," the report says.

"Enforcement action will be taken in situations deemed 'high risk' due to the involvement of sexually exploited children/youth, gangs/organized crime, exploitation, sexual abuse, violence and human trafficking," Lemcke's report said.

Some of the new enforcement guidelines are:

- Both patrol and the vice unit will build rapport with sex workers by offering assistance, providing safety information and will discuss options regarding locations of work so as to avoid residential areas, parks and schools.

- Where sex trade workers are the subject of complaints, officers will engage the Sex Industry Liaison officer or an appropriate community outreach service to help resolve the problem.

- Where enforcement is deemed necessary, officers will show respect and dignity to those involved (eg. providing blankets or robes for sex workers while in the presence of police executing a search warrant).

- The VPD will monitor and maintain intelligence reports to identify and track potentially violent sex trade "consumers/exploitive abusers." (police already monitor the “bad date sheet” put out by WISH, which lists physical descriptions of violent customers and their vehicles).

- The VPD will utilize the Sex Industry Liaison officer to participate in a dialogue with local government committees to assist in the continuing support strategies for sex trade workers.

Vancouver police Const. Jana McGuinness said Friday the report refers to "many of the initiatives the VPD has developed and implemented in recent years, many of which we continue to build upon.

“Successful programs like Sister Watch and our Sex Industry Liaison officer position have helped us to further protect women working in the sex industry and address high-risk safety concerns," she said.

"We recognize that there is still more work to do to overcome the distrust of police which will in turn increase reporting and help to end the violence endured by women in the sex industry," McGuinness added.

Lemcke’s full report is online here.




Missing Women Tip Line: 1-877-687-3377

Updated: August 21, 2016