SWAN Vancouver is an organization dedicated to preserving the rights of immigrant women who are in the industry of sex work who are often prosecuted unfairly under the current laws in Canada, not to mention in legal and social complexities. The non-profit advocates for aiding in the unique challenges faced by this marginalized community, and acts in front-line service by supplying safe sex supplies in order to protect the health and safety of sex workers in Vancouver and as far as the Fraser Valley. We spoke with Crystal Laderas, the Communications Manager of SWAN, to find out more about this non-profit that advocates for vulnerable women on a broader scale.
Describe your charity/non-profit/volunteer work in a few sentences.
SWAN Vancouver promotes the rights, health and safety of immigrant women engaged in indoor sex work. This population faces barriers when trying to access basic services – and on top of being criminalized by Canada’s prostitution laws, migrants face arrest, detention or deportation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) if they’re found to be working in the sex industry.
What problem does it aim to solve?
We’re advocating for the full decriminalization of sex work that doesn’t leave migrants behind, which means repealing Criminal Code offences and the IRPR which unfairly targets temporary residents. Because of these laws, SWAN provides front-line services such as delivering safer sex supplies to massage parlours in 11 cities in Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley. Women also call and text our Netreach lines for help with issues related to the law, immigration, arranging a SWAN translator for health appointments and reporting bad dates so we can warn other women about clients who were violent or refused to pay for services.
When did you start/join it?
I started in March and in just a few months I’ve travelled to massage businesses with the Outreach Team, watched our Executive Director speak to a House of Commons Committee and met the women we support through our Peer Program.
What made you want to get involved?
We often see anti-trafficking and anti-sex work campaigns specifically targeting Asian women and I wanted to fight against that. This population faces so much stigma and criminalization, they often have to hide – even within the sex work movement. Abolitionists, anti-traffickers and others really take advantage of that by using racist stereotypes to paint these women as victims who need to be saved. I’m here because I’m in a privileged position to state the obvious: Asian women can absolutely make a choice to do sex work. They have not been tricked, they are not powerless and they’re not made of porcelain. They want rights, not rescue.
What was the situation like when you started? How has it changed since?
SWAN Vancouver is growing quickly. Since the spring, we’ve added more volunteers to our Outreach team so we can start new routes to connect with women working across the Lower Mainland. We’ve also added new staff positions to help our front-line services grow and make sure immigrant women’s voices are heard through our advocacy.
What more needs to be done?
There are many more women out there who have to hide their work at the cost of safety, justice and health care and we’re always looking for more ways we can offer support. There is also still a lot of work and advocacy to be done to push for the full decriminalization of sex work in Canada.
How can our readers help?
Learn about immigrant sex workers by going to our website and following us on social media. You can read about how the Canadian government already recommended repealing the immigration ban on sex work but has failed to act, how asking about B.C.’s free birth control program at a pharmacy can put some women at risk of being deported or you can browse through our Resources section for quick guides and backgrounders that make it easy to understand issues impacting sex workers. We want these women to be recognized as workers who deserve rights and readers who educate themselves can help reduce the stigma surrounding sex work and help us fight for full decriminalization.
Do you have any events coming up?
We host a Condom Packing Party every month and it’s a fun and easy way to learn about our work and the women we support! I wish I knew about them when I first moved to Vancouver because some volunteers regularly bring their friends or a partner, some catch up with others and make new friends. These parties also directly benefit the women who receive packages of safer sex supplies. Stay tuned for our Halloween Condom Packing Party coming up in October!
Where can we follow you?
PAY IT FORWARD: What is an awesome local charity that you love?
Rainbow Refugee is a Vancouver-based charity that assists with the safe migration for people fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or HIV status. They also sponsor refugees in collaboration with community partners!