Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Sex workers after Pickton, and something I wish the media would quit doing

Another excellent story by Sarah Petrescu in the Times Colonist on cuts to services for sex workers in Victoria, despite all the findings of the Pickton Inquiry.
It’s worth reading. 
PEERS, which provides a range of outreach and other services to sex workers and those exiting the trade, has been forced to slash services and close a daytime drop-in centre and employment readiness programs. 
The problem is that the program was largely funded under a provincial government employment contract. The government wanted fewer contracts, with more controls, so it opted to award the main job program contracts to a few big players, which in turn subcontract with organizations like PEERS.
But the one-size-fits-all contract simply doesn’t work for groups - like sex workers - who need more than a brush-up on resumé writing before they’re ready to get a job. More support, more flexibility are needed. But the results are worth it, for the clients and the community.  (Disclosure: My partner was PEERS’ Executive director for three years.)
So what does the government say?
The Times Colonist story included this paragraph.
In a statement Tuesday, Social Development Minister Don McRae said sex workers would still have access to employment programs. “PEERS was a sub-contractor of the contracted service providers in Victoria, who have confirmed that there will be no disruption to services as a result of PEERS withdrawing its employment-related programs,” McRae said. He did not explain how such services would be provided.”
That’s false. PEERS programs are being cut and disrupted. Other agencies are not ready and able to provide job training to groups with challenges.
Politicians, corporations, individuals - they’re all being coached to avoid interviews, where they might have top answer questions, and issue written statements. 
The statements are self-serving, uninformative and deny the public real answers.
And tactic only works because the media plays along. 
The solution is simple. The media should just say no when offered an email response and report the government or organization would not provide the minister or anyone to answer questions. (If additional email answers are needed to provide technical information or detail, that's fine.)
McRae is the minister responsible, and taxpayers pay him some $150,000 a year to do the job. When there is a matter of public interest, he should be willing to answer questions and justify the government’s approach.
Come on media. Just say no to written non-answers.

Victoria police were quoted in the story.
"Officers might feel the effects of PEERS’s reductions in service, “as the [sex] workers may not be as well-informed, cared for and supported, potentially leaving them more susceptible to exploitation and abuse,” said Det. Sgt. Todd Wellman, supervisor of the Special Victims Unit.
He said PEERS acts as a conduit between sex trade workers and police, building a sense of trust. “With them, we’ve helped build a safe place for sex trade workers to report crimes.”
In a recent example, police knew that a sex trade worker, who was the victim of an aggravated assault, was hesitant to report it. PEERS encouraged the woman to come forward.
“PEERS supported the worker through the process and we actually conducted our interview at PEERS, whereas we would likely not have obtained a statement from the victim [otherwise] as she was not comfortable attending the police station,” Wellman said."
So there'a s a question for McRae. Police believe the cuts increase the risk of exploitation and abuse.
Why does McRae believe they are wrong?


RossK said...

A centralized system with contracts handed out to a few big players sure sounds like 'Care Net' to me, just without the name.

And who, exactly, was the Minister responsible for smoothing over that mess back in the day anyway?


Completely agree with you on how much a 'just say no' policy to using non-answers by the media would improve public knowledge about what the fine folks running things for us are actually up to.

However, I would extend this same no, no, no policy to spokespeople that were not involved in decision making processes that are being scrutinized.


paul said...

The odd thing, Ross K, is that in olden times when public sector people were allowed to talk to reporters, the results were positive. It would turn out the manager responsible for the bear program, or whatever, knew a heck of a lot, was aware of any problems and could explain what was going on. Even if a reporter was not satisfied with all the answers, there was a sense that a smart person was involved, with lots of knowledge and good intentions. It probably resulted in positive coverage.
Part of the problem is the rise of control freak top managers and comm shops that live in fear of problems that will get them yelled at. And part of the problem is the rise of governing parties that simply don't like or respect their employees.

Anonymous said...

Bravo Paul. I asked the Ministry of Health why it won't regulate crisis pregnancy centres. According to a Pro-Choice Action Network report, many of them are motivated by religious considerations and steer women away from abortions and birth control. The Ministry of Health responded with one sentence in an email. I did exactly as you advised and did not report what was said in this "statement" when the ministry wouldn't provide someone to speak on the record.

We do this quite frequently at the Georgia Straight. But the other media are poisoning the well by allowing governments to get away with this nonsense.

Charlie Smith

paul said...

I agree the media needs to talk about this and develop an approach. Not all journalists go along - I wrote about the issue a year ago after a Peter O'Neil blog in the Sun -
It's interesting that the people who manage communications share information and successful strategies are quickly adopted. But media and journalists don't.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading I F Stone, one of the most respected journalists in the US, while I was in grade 12. It was part of a course I was taking called "World Problems." He said he would not interview politicians because they always lied. When he wrote, he analyzed what they did , not what they said. He wrote a successful independent newspaper called the IF Stone Weekly.
Too many of our journalists just repeat what politicians tell them. The journalists think they are great because they have close contact with the politicians in power and they don’t realize they are being used to spread the politicians’ propaganda.
They could ask them the right questions, but they should do an honest and rigorous analysis of what they have been told.

I F Stone would have a lot of fun with the internet.