Outreach groups are speaking up about the summer tourism season in Kelowna and the surge in demand, and danger for sex workers that accompanies the warmer weather.
Angie Lohr, the founder of HOPE outreach, said that workers are able to make more money in Kelowna during the summer months than they can in other communities because of the influx of tourists. However, while there is the ability for financial gain it is also met with increased levels of abuse.
“Unfortunately, the human trafficking industry also surges in the summer,” said Samantha (requested to have her last name redacted for safety) with the Elizabeth Fry Society.“Human trafficking trends follow sex worker trends.”
The Elizabeth Fry Society sees peaks in sexual assaults during vacation times, with sex trade workers and those who are victims of human trafficking being disproportionately impacted.
Lohr said that she has seen situations where customers, who are mainly men, avoid paying sex trade workers and the result can end in assault.
“We should be protecting these women and men in sex work… They’re providing a service and should be compensated… just pay the money.”
She explained that men often target vulnerable sex workers who are experiencing substance use disorders and mental illness, who provide what she considers to be “survival sex.”
“If you’re going to pay for a sex trade worker, make sure it is an appropriate sex trade worker, not someone who is providing survival sex,” as they are often not able to refuse unsafe situations out of desperation, said Lohr.
There are multiple facets of sex work, which come with varying levels of risk.
Kelowna has two sex-associated massage parlours and is home to many women who market their services online.
Typically, those working online and in massage parlours have an extra layer of security, support, and health assessments that those living on the street don’t have access to.
In the Okanagan, sex workers can report the violence on a service with Hope Outreach called Bad Date as a way to warn others about those who threaten their safety. Once a report is made, it is emailed out to local outreach agencies. The alerts are then printed out and posted in common areas of outreach facilities to protect sex workers and vulnerable women.
Lohr explained that typically in cases of assault there is no hard evidence that can be used to press charges, and the only available information is the survivor’s word against that of the accused.
“People should be able to provide the service and not be beat up and robbed.”
Samantha added that sex trade workers often do not want to be labelled as a victim, and will not always seek help from resources like the Elizabeth Fry Society.
Lohr said that sex work should be legalized in order to ensure protection for the workers.
She said that“it’s a service that people are accessing… why are we not treating it like it’s an actual job?”
The outreach workers urge people to call 911 or the non-emergency line immediately if they witness anything suspicious or that resembles abuse.