Predators Up, Revenue Down in Vancouver’s Outdoor Sex Work Market

If you want to know what’s happening in Canada’s economy, you don’t need to read business journals or watch the latest stock reports, you just need to check in with the outdoor sex workers who serve the country’s “working-class” residents to find out just how bad or good things are. 

Similar to the med spa industry, the sex work industry is also funded by people’s “surplus” income, so it’s easy to take the economic pulse of the nation by monitoring how much money the average “Joe” can afford to spend on outdoor sex worker services.

A Pulse Check With Vancouver’s Outdoor Sex Workers

When I checked in with a few of Vancouver’s active outdoor sex workers who operate out of the DTES, the news was quite grim: business is down so low that many sex workers can’t afford food or cigarettes, and more of us are dopesick because we can’t even afford our stash.

Everyone is having a hard time finding work.  Regulars are calling less often, and for the past two weeks, the streets have been practically dead, with very few viable potential clients.  Meanwhile, the predators have been out in full force trying to take advantage of the situation.

Why is Sex Work Demand Down in Vancouver?

When I asked why business was down, I was given the same reasons that we see in the news: Covid, Monkeypox, inflation, rising interest rates, high gas prices, low tourism, and clients vacationing with family over the summer holidays. Between the pandemics, inflation, and the summer season, the outdoor sex work community in Vancouver’s DTES has seen a massive drop in economic activity.

Recognizing that we are moving into September, with back-to-school season and the seasonal re-start of the economy, I hopefully inquired if the outdoor sex work community expects things to improve after Labour Day. But, no.  Here’s why.

Health authorities expect Monkeypox and Covid to get worse in the fall, and recent history has demonstrated that outdoor sex work clients are not as willing to take the risk to purchase in-person sexual services during public health outbreaks. 

Also, September is traditionally the second-slowest month on the DTES for outdoor sex work.  So, my sources say that it will take until at least October before things start to get better.

Vancouver’s Sex Work Community is Facing an Economic Crisis

And, at the same time that Vancouver’s outdoor sex work community is facing a severe economic crisis, we are also being increasingly targetted by predators. Why?  

When business is bad and we are having trouble paying our bills, predators come out of the woodwork to take advantage of our desperation. When our clients aren’t coming by as regularly, there are no tourists in town, and the streets are dead, predators are the only ones coming out to see us.  

Most of the time seasoned sex workers can spot predators and avoid them, but they still get a few of us every night. And, they don’t always kill us – we usually survive their assaults and live to work another day.

What the Sex Work Community in Vancouver is Doing to Keep Eachother Safe

Speaking of predators, the outdoor sex work community is doing what we can to keep each other safe – or to at least be able to find each other if we fall victim to a predator.  

These days, we are sharing our locations with each other on our cell phones and using air tags on our bodies so our colleagues can monitor our movements. We also take our car dates to the same locations so we can watch over each other and be on hand in case of an emergency.

But, we also plan for the worst.  

We share the photos and details of the predators who are currently stalking us with our fellow sex workers, so that if we go missing, the police will have a good place to start investigating our murders. 

Of course, we report our stalkers to local police before it ever gets to that point, but they don’t seem to do much to protect us while we’re alive. It seems they only have the power and motivation to act in our best interests after we’re dead. Which, you know, isn’t nearly good enough.

Why Isn’t the Government Offering an Economic Stimulus Package for Vancouver Sex Workers?

So, where is the government with an economic stimulus package for the outdoor sex work industry? We have starving sex workers who are suffering because our industry has been shut down for over two years due to two public health crises. The government has been there to support other types of personal services businesses; what about us?

Where is the government as far as ensuring sex workers have safe working conditions? Why do the police ignore our reports of the stalkers and predators who threaten us when we are at work just trying to make an honest living? Why does the government do nothing to protect us, and instead allow mentally deranged and violent people to be free to assault, abuse, and murder us at will?

The systemic discrimination against sex workers in Canada is thriving and must be brought to light.  

We are guaranteed our human rights under the constitution, and it is illegal and hateful to condone violence and economic discrimination against us. We are your neighbours, family members, friends, and community members. We are human beings. We deserve to live in the same Canada that you do.