Drugs, violence and prostitution are inevitable in a poverty-stricken neighborhood such as Downtown Eastside Vancouver. The texts chosen are “Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister”, a book of memories about a typical resident of that neighborhood, woman who disappeared from the corner of Princess and Hastings, and “In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver”, a series of drug addiction and prostitution stories recollected from the interviews of women living in Downtown Eastside.
The movie chosen is `The Life`, an adventure of two Vancouver police officers who grew up in Downtown Eastside and struggle to save teenagers living in the region from drug addiction. This sub-culture and region were chosen in order to present an illustration of life most people choose to ignore, existence filled with drugs, violence and prostitution. Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is a space where women, in their own terms, are barely heard. These women, their life and their problems remain unseen, as they are in a kind of “blind spot”, a place most people choose not to think and recall about.
“Missing Sarah”, “In Plain Sight” and “The Life” portray a neighborhood branded by layers of stigma. Many women among this community struggle with drug addictions, experience difficulties fulfilling their basic needs. They are real people with real problems, challenging the stereotypes applied to drug addicts and prostitutes daily. For this reason, of “Strife” is the best symbol for Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and the existence of its dwellers.
After reading “Missing Sarah” and “In Plain Sight” a question arises which is why prostitution is considered to be at least partly appropriate for woman and for man it is fully inappropriate. In our society it is considered to be normal for woman to quit working after she got married, but a man who is doing household chores, while his wife is bringing the bacon home arouses bewilderment and even contempt. This example shows that the contemporary society implicates its normal for a woman to serve as a sexual object, but for man it is inappropriate.
Nevertheless, in Downtown Eastside people are involved into sex business regardless of their gender in age. This paper is mostly about female drug addicts who are employed in sex industry, but it doesn’t mean that man are not involved, are not struggling for to survive in this district. It is just that there are more female prostitutes on Downtown Eastside’s streets. Downtown Eastside is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Vancouver. It is known for its open drug trade, developed sex industry, large number of drug-related deaths and the highest HIV infection rate throughout North America.
It is the poorest urban area in Canada with nearly 5000 homeless people living in the 10 block perimeter of the district, as described by Leslie A. Robertson and Dara Culhane, editors of “In Plain Sight”. Downtown Eastside becomes the last stop for thousands of people who choose it because of low rent rates, and because of anonymity this place provides. “If you do come to Vancouver, don’t stay in the Downtown Eastside. Once you get down here it’s hard to walk away from it” – says Pawz, one of the protagonists of “In Plain Sight”.
In the series of interviews she described how people arriving to Downtown Eastside accepted the inhumane conditions that initially seemed shocking for them in the attempt to survive, and to provide the essentials for their families and themselves. In her story Pawz tells about women who are constrained to sell their bodies in order to get money for drugs. “For women to be prostituting themselves, they’ve obviously got no respect for themselves. “ – she says. “Maybe they do but they don’t, maybe they have more respect for the drug.
They’ll do anything to get the drug…” (67) – Pawz continues, describing things she sees around every day. These women usually don’t have medical insurance, they don’t have anyone who would pay their bills, buy food and necessities for them. The only thing left to them is addiction, and, for some, a stinging desire to get things in order, to have a normal happy life. Only a small number of these women get such a chance, and few of those who get it are able to use it. Sexism comes from the perception that men are superior to women.
For a period of time in history, women were considered the weaker sex and denied certain privileges such as the right to vote, to inherit property, to get education etc. In 20th century the situation had changed for most women, but in regions like Downtown Eastside they are still deprived of essential human rights. In most cases women in this neighborhood are accepted for sexual objects, things that can be bought and sold, personals lost for the society and normal life. And the scariest fact is that it seems no one is interested in their lives, in their fate.
Maggie de Vries, author of “Missing Sarah” says: “…women continued to disappear through the rest of 1999, 2000 and 2001. … Women could continue to disappear without much public awareness or public outcry because the women were considered lost to begin with. Their disappearances did not create fear in the rest of us. (225)”. These disappearances begun in 1978, and continued through decades, and police hadn’t suspected anything wrong. As de Vries says, these women were lost before they disappeared. In the contemporary society personality is considered to be one of the core values.
In prostitution, “men buy not a self but a body that performs as a self, and it is a self that conforms to the most harmful, damaging, racist and sexist concepts of women… ” – says Kathleen Barry in her book The Prostitution of Sexuality. Thus it’s obvious that prostitution is impinging of one of the society’s basic values, which is personality, by treating people who work in the sex industry as sexual objects solely. Nevertheless, these women, living in their perverted isolated reality, still struggle for their life, for being happy, for staying safe and sane.
They cook, they clean their houses, visit friends and buy consumables, and they love their families, friends and children. Some of them say that drugs are a way to survive in the world around, as they allow to forget about problems at least for some time, creating an impression of being happy and protected. Some Downtown Eastside women choose drugs as a way to make their lives more bearable. Afterwards they find out substance abuse and alcoholism can only complicate the situation, but at that point it is usually too late for them to do something about it.
Nevertheless, they continue living and doing everything for their families and them to survive. Canadian legislators have been debating the issue of prostitution legalization for years. To this day, prostitutes are being pushed from one area to the next, and street prostitution in Downtown Eastside is becoming more and more dangerous. The number of prostitutes winding up dead is increasing every year. These women are not protected by any laws, they can be beaten, tortured and murdered, and in most cases police would not even look for the malefactor, as the victim “was just a hooker”.
It often happens that police are sure no one remembers these women, that they have no people to be worried about them, and who would be interested in their fate, and in finding their offenders. An opinion is widespread among many people that prostitution is a matter of free personal choice, and that women choose to sell their bodies because they just don’t want to work. Reality is much more complicated than that. Lots of women are drugged into prostitution by force, their partners, and sometimes even parents make them sell their bodies in order to gain profit.
It is also that it is very hard for women living in districts like Downtown Eastside to find a job that would provide enough money for the essentials. Most of these women have high school diploma, and no special education, and there are some who haven’t even graduated school, thus they have very little chance to get decent job. In case women is a drug addict prostitution is the only way for her to earn for living, as drugs are quite costly, and she needs them constantly. It is also that many women who work in sex industry choose this path because they have to support their families and children.
On the first glance it really seems that it is a matter of choice for woman or man for whether to become a prostitute, but data exists that shows that it often happens that a person begins to work in sex industry not because he or she wants it, but because of his/her life circumstances. In one study, 90% of prostitutes interviewed had been battered in their families; 74% had been sexually abused between the ages of 3 and 14. Most prostitutes have been victims of childhood sexual abuse, incest, rape, or battery prior to their entry into prostitution (A facilitator’s guide to Prostitution: a matter of violence against women)
“We’re trying to live a normal life instead of being in the gutter,” one woman said in “The Life”. In this movie women working in sex industry tell about their life and their work. They say they try to keep together, as it is safer; they often have to struggle in order to prevent pushing them from the areas they live and work in, and against the criminalization of prostitution. Prostitution is deemed unacceptable by society, but, nevertheless, it has always existed. It does not occur to anyone to consult with sex industry workers when making decisions that concern them.
They are treated like mere numbers, politicians and normal citizens don’t want to see real people and real faces behind dry facts like “prostitution is one of the main Downtown Eastside’s Vancouver problems”, “lots of sex-industry workers are drug addict”, or “murder rates are very high for those involved in sex-industry”. De Vries in her “Missing Sarah” tells excerpts from the stories of dozens of women who were drug addict, selling their bodies, and who disappeared in Downtown Eastside between 1978 and 2002.
Those are stories about real women who had their plans and dreams, who had husbands, mothers, sisters and children, who got lost for the society long before they disappeared physically. Contemporary society claims to move towards equaling the rights of all its members, despite of their race, ethnicity, appearance, age, gender or any other parameter. The existence of prostitution is a breach of this principle, as it allows the existence of humans who are treated inhumanely, of people who are considered to be sexual objects.
Their desires and preferences in such an important and intimate sphere of human relationship as sex are not considered, they are engaged in various types of sexual activities most of them don’t like. Luckily most people in North America lead quite a safe life; they have their homes, families and workplaces. In order to keep this feeling of being safe and protected most of them choose to ignore the existence of places like Downtown Eastside. Nevertheless, they still exist, with all the violence, drugs, prostitution and crime. Downtown Eastside is real, with real people, whose sufferings and pain is real, the same as their joy and happiness.
They strive for their lives in the contemporary city jungle, and they are not going to disappear just because “normal” people choose to ignore them. Works Cited 1. Barry, K. (1995). The Prostitution of Sexuality. New York, New York University Press 2. Maggie de Vries, Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Woman Remembers Her Vanished Sister. Toronto: Penguin, 2004. 3. Leslie A. Robertson and Dara Culhane, eds. , In Plain Sight: Reflections on Life in Downtown Eastside Vancouver. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 2005. 4. The Life. Directed by Lynne Stopkewic