How I got started

I first got involved in researching prostitution during my first practicum for my Bachelor’s degree, deciding that instead of working at a community police station filing paperwork I wanted to do something more hands-on, more than just clerical work. My practicum supervisor suggested the Provincial Prostitution Unit – now disbanded – doing research for the inter-departmental unit. I worked under Sophie Mas, who still works in non-profit with marginalized youth in Vancouver, and my main project during my term was to confirm a list of organizations that offered services for at-risk, exploited, and street youth across Canada.

As part of my education with the Unit, I learned a lot about the realities of life for street youth in Vancouver, the adult and youth sex trade, and where the prostitution strolls were. I even met experiential youth – young people who had exited street life and were working with other non-profit groups – and learned their stories. I knew that I was going to learn a lot in this placement, but I wasn’t sure about just how much I didn’t know.

I learned about the sex tourism industry, and about websites where men posted information about the “kiddie strolls” with underage and young-looking women, even information about the youth working the streets and descriptions of their experiences. The government had to give me special clearance through their firewalls to be able to search out websites with the words “prostitution”, and “sex” in order to conduct any research and to email organizations across North America.

I met community groups that worked to raise awareness about the existence plight of street youth in and around Greater Vancouver. I met parents who lost their children to the lure of living on the streets, youth who had run away from home to escape abuse, dysfunction, or to engage in their drug habits.

But I still believed that there was a way to “rescue” these young people, who were often not much younger than me, who came from homes and communities like mine, who had similar backgrounds. Of course you want to rescue them, to take them off the streets and make them better, why wouldn’t you? It’s what we’re taught to do, right? I believed that given the choice between living on the streets with the threat of violence, the elements, and no security, most people would go into a shelter and work towards transitioning back to “straight” or “square” life.

What I didn’t understand was that for many young people, and adults who had left home at a young age, even a poor choice made on your own may be preferable to having no choices of your own. Living under one’s own rules, even without the security and comfort of a home, may be more desirable than having to defer to someone else’s authority. This is something I am still understanding, and have only just come to accept about those who live their lives differently than we may think they should.

But that’s what my research is leading me to; a better way to work with people where they are and allow them to make their own choices, and hopefully make better, healthier choices.


About Kelly Bohl

Graduate student with a day job who enjoys great cafes, exploring restaurants, and the best diners. When I'm not out sampling great dishes at our restaurants, I'm engaged in testing various recipes to make my own great dishes at home.
This entry was posted in At-Risk People, Life on the Streets, Prostitution. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to How I got started

  1. Hi Kelly!
    Love your “writingmydamnthesis” address, when (if) you’ve finished you should sell it!
    Just thought I’d let you know of a similar Downtown Eastside blog I came across awhile back by a group of students involved in similar work during a five week project at SFU. Sadly, they finished writing it in 2007, I don’t know if any are contactable, but you may find some of the content interesting/useful:

    Do you know/ are you aware of Kate Shannon et al’s work there?

    Best, Stephen

    • Kelly Bohl says:

      Thanks Stephen, I don’t know how wordpress addresses work, but once I finish my thesis I’ll have to change it to “writingmydamndissertation” because it’s the PhD route after that.
      I appreciate the info about the SFU business students’ blog, I’ll be checking that out for sure. And thanks for mentioning Kate Shannon’s work, I’m using about three of her articles in my literature review at the moment and am looking into contacting her as her research with WISH is closely related to my own research goals.

  2. I live in Wales, UK, but I have been following Canadian developments for a while, as I’m in contact with Michael Goodyear who lives there, who teaches at Dalhousie, and whose site is an enormous resource:

    This Vancouver Sun article on “the staggering incoherence of Canada’s prostitution laws” appeared on my screen yesterday. Don’t know what you think of it, I was a little disappointed it mentioned Norway without looking at anywhere else, eg New Zealand

  3. Hi Kelly, it’s been a while now since you posted, hope you’re OK + you’re not going to leave us with just two postings? You heard of Mary Whowell, a web acquaintance of mine who is involved with ? She’s leaving in a few months time to work at Northumbria Uni here in the UK.

    • Kelly Bohl says:

      I had no idea anyone was really even following me, this kind of started out as a means of me getting out all the perspective shifts I’ve been experiencing lately as a result of my research. I figured since I can’t put it in my thesis it should go somewhere!

      I don’t know Mary, but thanks for linking me to her site, I’ll be getting in touch with her soon as it sounds like great information she’ll be releasing hopefully soon.

      I will post more about my experiences and history in working with women in the sex trade, but as my URL suggests, I’ve been writing my damn thesis. I’ll see what I can scribble down later tonight, I actually write almost everything in a longhand draft before I type.

  4. Ah, thank God you’re still alive! I had horrible thoughts of you lying in a pool of blood in some Downtown Eastside alley, like some latter day member of the Untouchables!

    I tap my postings out on a word processor, then just copy and paste, I find it a lot easier. And add any links later. It’s probably easiest if you’ve got Word (which I haven’t) as there’s a special button for that.

  5. Mary’s just emailed a list we’re on to tell us of the Vancouver work of Becki Ross. Apparently she does fantastic work on the history of sex work in the city. There’s a 10-minute video here:
    And she has a book out on exotic dance in Vancouver:

    PS Maybe we can get her to write your blog?(!)

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