Enforcement against sex workers to be used as ‘last resort’: VPD report


The Vancouver police board will next week consider adopting new sex worker enforcement guidelines encouraging 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 been 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 on Wednesday.

The report said the VPD will still respond to community com-plaints and consider enforcement action, but acknowledges that “enforcement action is some-times 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 [of crimes against sex workers].”

She said the new VPD guide-lines 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.

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.