HOPE Outreach serves Kelowna and Vernon. (Black Press file photo)

‘The public doesn’t need to know’: Okanagan outreach society speaks out on sex worker violence

HOPE Okanagan runs Bad Date reporting where sex workers warn other marginalized and exploited women

Warning: This story contains graphic content that discusses sexual violence that may be triggering for some readers.

Marginalized and exploited women are at risk of being sexually assaulted every day, regardless of whether their trauma is trending on social media or not.

In the Okanagan, sex workers can report the violence on a service called Bad Date as a way to warn others about those who threaten their safety.

HOPE Outreach founder Angie Lohr works with those submitting the reports and she says, “we don’t feel like the public needs to know.”

Once a report is made through the Bad Date service it is emailed out to local outreach agencies. The alerts are then printed out and posted in common areas of outreach facilities to protect sex workers and vulnerable women.

For the second time in less than a year, a report from Bad Date service has become public, despite the service’s goal to maintain a low profile to respect the privacy of marginalized and exploited women in the Okanagan.

Earlier this month, a Bad Date warning detailing the luring of young women living at an encampment was shared to social media by a member of the public.

“When we get too much public involvement it gets blown out of proportion.”

In August 2022, Lohr spoke out after a report was posted to social media describing a man, who drugged and raped a woman in Kelowna.

“The purpose of Bad Date Reporting is to gather and circulate valuable information in hopes of increasing the safety of women in our community…We don’t feel the need to share.”

She said that even well-meaning responses from the public can cause harm. Often people who hear about assault turn towards vigilantism, which is illegal, while others will blame the women and cast unfair judgment.

READ MORE: Sex assault crimes increasing: Kelowna outreach program logs graphic case

Lohr said that the alerts are not sent out to the general public because they are not intended for anyone other than sex workers and the organizations that work to help and protect them.

Instead, the alerts are sent to 150 organizations in the Okanagan where they are posted to warn sex workers of the alleged perpetrators.

READ MORE: Record number of sexual assaults reported to police in B.C. in 2021

HOPE Okanagan does not release personal details of the alleged perpetrator, such as names or license plate numbers, because HOPE does not vet the reports or launch an investigation like the RCMP. Lohr said that they do not fact-check the accusations and at HOPE Outreach, survivors are believed without hard evidence.

Lohr said that often, women do not want to go forward with a case to the police for fear of repercussions or because of past experiences with law enforcement.

She explained that typically, in cases of assault there is no hard evidence that can be used to press charges, the only available information is the survivor’s word against that of the accused.

“Abuse is done against sex trade workers all the time.”

The need for support of vulnerable women has increased as the prevalence of crime and the rate of sex work increases in the Okanagan.

Lohr said that the number of women in sex work in Kelowna has almost doubled since the start of the pandemic.

She said that crime, including sexual assault, rape, and domestic violence, is becoming increasingly common in the Central Okanagan.

People that would like to report can find a fill-able report on the HOPE outreach website under the Bad Date Reporting tab. Anyone that has experienced a Bad Date is able to fill out this report, including sex workers, trans-women, and volunteers.


@Rangers_mom
Jacqueline.Gelineau@kelownacapnews.com

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