Bad date reporting tool good news for Kelowna's sex workers | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Bad date reporting tool good news for Kelowna's sex workers

Angie Lohr, of Hope Outreach, is seen in Kelowna, B.C.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Desmond Murray
February 03, 2021 - 7:00 AM

Today, like any day, Angie Lohr will probably hear about another bad date in Kelowna or about a woman who is risking her safety to put food on the table or fund their drug use.

It's been a tough year for many, and the executive director at HOPE Outreach knows it's worse for those living on the fringes of the community, where the sex trade continues to thrive as so much else has fallen silent.

"Women have lost their jobs, single moms can't put food on the table, they can't pay their rent, maybe they've only had a menial job and now they're laid off, and ends are not meeting financially," Lohr said. "And sadly, more women are falling to (the sex trade) because they have nothing else to rely on. That and the fact that demand is increasing substantially every year. So are predators."

Lohr is frank about the industry she's become the city's resident expert on. In 2008, she founded Helping Out People Exploited, better known as HOPE Outreach. It's a volunteer outreach organization with the mandate to help homeless and exploited women in Vernon and Kelowna reclaim their lives and overcome addiction and cultural circumstances.

It's something she could have used decades earlier. At 28 years old, Lohr who had a good job and a stable background accepted an offer to get high. She knew the source and thought she was safe. She later learned she was freebasing cocaine and that was her entry point for a decade of addiction, petty crime to pay for her habit, and eventually prostitution.

She doesn't have any qualms about talking about her past or the industry she once worked in, Lohr is passionate about keeping it safe.

"You know I'm all for sex work, but you need to pay for it ... (men) need to quit assaulting the ladies who are vulnerable and just getting stuff for free," she said. "That is not acceptable."

While the sex trade has gone on unfettered since the arrival of COVID-19 the community supports that once helped those who were looking for it have started to recede.

"There's been a decrease in services due to COVID — there's a lack of counselling and a lack of support in these women's communities," she said

While Lohr has a front-row view of all that can go wrong, Tuesday, Feb. 2, she also saw something go very right and the lightness in her voice was palpable.

A donation of close to $1 million from The Law Foundation of B.C. and an anonymous family foundation will be used to create a “bad date reporting” tool that will allow sex workers across the province to immediately share concerns with each other.

The three years of funding will allow sex workers to plan, build and eventually launch the database.

Already, Lohr said that there is a bad date information collection system in Kelowna, but this new development will see all the information brought together into one place. It will also ensure that sex trade workers in far-flung regions of B.C. that are more sparsely serviced can get some much-needed information. 

"Three years ago come May, there was a provincewide conference that invited all agencies who work with sex workers to come together," Lohr said.

"The bad date reporting system was a big issue, not that people weren't using it in their own little communities, but no one was ever connected together to support the girls who are dealing with predators who we know are travelling."

Lohr said she's seen evidence of this with women she worked within the Okanagan, being kidnapped from this area and taken to Surrey, where they're dumped. These men victimizing women were known to be a problem, but not necessarily where they meet up with new victims.

"It's just gross," she said. "And there was a way for us to all communicate together and just make that more efficient. So through the conference that was one of the big points that was brought up ... we're all doing the best we can in our communities, but it's not enough."

Lohr said WISH, B.C.’s largest sex worker support organization, applied for funding that probably would have come through sooner but then COVID hit. All sex workers will be able to access the program, which from what she's heard will basically be an app.

Women, she said, in these vulnerable positions, able to access less information and are loath to contact the authorities when they find themselves in trouble.

"Sadly, they don't have a great relationship with the RCMP," she said.

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Social Sciences shows nearly a third of all sex workers are unable to call 911 for help in a safety emergency due to fear of repercussions from police for themselves, their coworkers and managers.

The data showed that in Canada, sex workers represented 2% of all homicides between 1991 and 2014; 34% of these homicide victims were Indigenous despite Indigenous people accounting for only 4% of the Canadian population. Furthermore, 32% of sex workers murdered in Canada between 1997 and 2014 were killed by a perpetrator accused of killing two or more sex workers – triple the rate of perpetrators with multiple murder accusations for homicide victims generally.

"Sex workers, and in particular Indigenous sex workers, continue to report very high levels of physical and sexual violence under the current “end demand” criminalization framework," reads the study.

That, said Lohr, is something that nobody wants to talk about and the app could go some distance to helping women take care of themselves in that vacuum.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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