You can’t change a problem with the same thinking that created the thinking in the first place.
Systems change involves changing the system dynamics that create social problems in the first place. This means getting at the belief systems, routines and power dynamics that are the underlying causes. Living in Community sees that many of the conflicts about sex work have to do with power inequity, poverty, racism, colonization, and stigma. We believe that we need to look at sex work issues in a systemic way so we can make the kind of change that is needed.
Systems change looks like:
- Really good policies that shine the light on sex worker experiences and uphold their rights to health and safety. The City of Vancouver’s Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines are a good example of municipal policy that promotes a respectful, non-discriminatory and consistent approach among all employees who interact with anyone in the sex industry through the course of their duties.
- Working with the media to change how sex workers are portrayed in the media.
- Strong housing strategies that address the unique needs of sex workers.
Living in Community understands that band-aid solutions do not adequately address the big social issues of our times. For example, food banks are important – but they don’t fix poverty. That’s why Living in Community is focused on helping to create policies that shift bigger systems and transform how society thinks about sex work and how we all interact with sex workers.
For example, the City of Vancouver’s Sex Work Response Guidelines provides a balanced approach to safety, health and well-being for sex workers and neighbourhoods where sex work occurs. Through both our advocacy and education, we work with other municipalities, organizations and institutions to develop their own policies that get at the root issues that create inequities for sex workers.
Advocacy and Civic Engagement
One of the key ways that Living in Community changes systems is by engaging in advocacy and civic engagement. We advocate with governments, politicians, and other decision-makers to keep sex work issues on the table, ensure adequate support for sex work support organizations, and educate those in power to understand sex work. We work with the media where there is negative coverage of sex work, and we help the public to better understand the lived reality of people who engage in sex work.
Click on each title below to learn more about our advocacy and civic engagement work:
A significant portion of Living in Community’s advocacy work focuses on the municipal level. We advocate for bylaws that promote sex worker safety, funding for frontline sex worker-serving organizations, and municipal policies and planning that understand the difference between sex work and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We also provide training and education to elected officials and municipal staff, including bylaw enforcement officers. As an initiative that started in the City of Vancouver, much of our work has focused on Vancouver; we have also worked with municipalities ranging from Nanaimo and Surrey, BC, to Whitehorse, Yukon, to St. John’s, Newfoundland.
Read some of our recent submissions to municipal governments below:
Living in Community regularly participates in advocacy meetings, public consultations, and other opportunities with the provincial government. At this level, we advocate for changes needed to provincial policies and programs such that sex workers can access services and supports safely and equitably like other community members. We also regularly advocate for increased funding and support for sex worker-serving organizations.
Read some of our recent submissions to the provincial government below:
- July 2020: Response to “Building BC’s Recovery, Together” COVID-19 Public Consultation
- June 2020: Submission to the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services: Annual Budget Consultation
- June 2020: Letter to the Honourable Adrian Dix regarding Civil Forfeiture Crime Prevention and Remediation Funding Stream Name
- May 2020: Provincial Recommendations for Sex Worker Health and Safety During COVID-19
Living in Community also advocates to the federal government on matters under federal jurisdiction. The laws governing sex work in Canada are federal, and many programs – such as Employment Insurance or the multiple emergency programs created during COVID-19 – are also federally determined. At this level, we advocate for the decriminalization of sex work, as well as for sex workers’ constitutional rights to be protected and upheld.
Read some of our recent submissions to the federal government below:
- May 2021: Submission to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs re: S-203, An Act to restrict young persons’ online access to sexually explicit material
- February 2021: Submission to the 2021 Federal Pre-Budget Consultation
- May 2020: Federal Recommendations for Sex Worker Health and Safety During COVID-19
As Living in Community has evolved over time, our approach to working with police and addressing community safety has also changed. Back in 2003 – before Living in Community was created – violence against sex workers in Vancouver was unacceptably high. Sixty-seven sex workers had been disappeared and/or had been murdered in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. A serial killer had been arrested but tensions remained high, particularly between police and sex workers. There was a willingness to take a different approach to address sex work in Vancouver among multiple stakeholders, including the police.
When LIC began in 2004, the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) was seen as a key pillar of the Living in Community model, and VPD officers were members of our Steering Committee. LIC was designed to begin new conversations among the VPD, sex workers, and other community members to build trust and work toward shared goals through collaboration. Our hope was that through building reciprocal and mutually respectful relationships, change could occur.
However, after sixteen years of trying to build this partnership with the VPD, in 2020 Living in Community decided that many actions of the VPD had not been in accordance with these principles of mutual respect and collaboration. In addition to several actions from the VPD which broke trust, both with Living in Community and with sex workers and sex worker-serving organizations, many of our stakeholders felt that those whose mandate is to enforce the current laws are incompatible with the work we do. You can read more about our decision to end our partnership with the VPD here.
Living in Community supports sex workers and sex work organizations engaging or disengaging with police in the various ways they may choose to, as sex workers have a variety of opinions about police. We also recognize that the policing and criminal justice systems have caused significant harm to sex workers. We see building and re-building trust with sex workers who may be critical of our historical work with the VPD as an ongoing commitment. Our position on policing continues to evolve to respond to the needs and concerns of those we work with.
This decision to remove the VPD from Living in Community fundamentally shaped our current advocacy response to policing. Learn more about our recent advocacy work on policing below: