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flesh mapping: vancouver markets pacific women – background

November 2008
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Vancouver is an ancient and wondrous Pacific port, a modern colonial outpost; a ‘border town’ of the American imperial giant. This gateway to the splendour of the world’s largest sea, ringed by magnificent volcanic mountains is also a man-made funnel to an urban ghetto of poverty, racism and sexist violence.

A tourist destination pandering in advance of the Olympic games, Vancouver feigns harm reduction while growing and boasting an industry of warehousing and herding the poor.

In the name of voluntary prostitution, it proposes to use law and order to clean out the city of the disadvantaged Aboriginal street women thereby protecting and raising the downtown land values. The sexual service to both resident and touring men it seems to assign to immigrant women and runaway girls housed in suburban brothels, many of which are beyond city limits.

A constellation of places and forces creates the prostitution market in the greater Vancouver area for women (see upcoming article by Lee Lakeman 2009 contact Rape Relief for reference). Global flights and rusty ships of immigration both legal and illegal meet global containers of goods and stockpiled wealth both legal and illegal here and soon in Prince Rupert.

Vancouver supports both the first rape crisis center in the country and a particular and horrible history of violence against women. This is a site of the global trafficking of girls and women, including Refugee Women and Indigenous Women.

Vancouver is also a crossroads of thoughts about prostitution and trafficking in women. New legal challenges may well strike down all laws against pimping, procuring, and prostitution. Other local courts punished the first cases of sex tourism and are investigating the next (Kenneth Robert Klassen – an international art dealer is charged with 35 sex tourism offences involving 6 Colombian girls, 8 Cambodians and 3 in the Philippines. The first charges of trafficking were laid here in a case of Korean women. (Michael Ng). Law enforcement claims to support prostitutes as victims but fails to criminalize johns and traffickers.

The Canadian parliamentary committee considering the Status of Women agrees that Canada should move “From Outrage to Action”. But national political parties are divided. All parties fail to decriminalize women but continue to effectively decriminalize their tormentors and exploiters. See the Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women. Some even propose legalization. They all fail to provide the conditions and resources that would allow women the choice not to be prostituted or to escape it. They all fail to provide desperate women the choice to migrate safely or to be safe and to feed themselves in their homelands without migrating.

Women working against sexist violence face the global economy as it affects women in the rape crisis center, in the transition house and on the streets. They face it in the fists and pocketbooks of individual men and in their organized gangs and in the businessmen’s consortiums.

They want to face it down in solidarity with women around the world. This project advances anti-rape feminist work into the global scene and into the globalized conditions of women’s lives. See the Study from the Secretary General on Ending Violence Against Women: from Words to Action for details.

Using our local traditions of activist art, consciousness-raising education methods and participatory anti- violence organizing techniques such as Fighting Back Against Rape in Kerrisdale and Anti-Violence Workers Meeting, we propose to ally with and learn from women around the Pacific Rim.

Starting from our position that prostitution is neither necessary nor desired by women and represents at best the “constrained choices” of women, we explore what are the links between the local demand of men for prostitution and the global traffic in girls and women.

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For 7 months we met, discovered, discussed and investigated links between the international trafficking of women and the Vancouver demand for prostitution. We settled on bed sheets as an artistic unit, a canvas and a bed as our uniting display. The artists worked with us to facilitate the transfer of thoughts and ideas onto the 50 sheets.

December 2008
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