B.C. outreach group partners with app developer to improve safety of sex workers

An Okanagan non-profit is hoping location tracking will help

An outreach group supporting vulnerable women in British Columbia is hoping a cellphone app designed to monitor remote workers in resource industries will help keep sex workers safe.

Hope Outreach, a non-profit group that provides support to homeless and exploited women in Kelowna, is partnering with the makers of YodelMe to launch a pilot project to make the monitoring app available to sex workers and other vulnerable women in the Okanagan.

“What I can see it do is saving some lives, and that’s what I’m all about,” said Angie Lohr, president and co-founder of Hope Outreach.

YodelMe uses Wi-Fi, cellular and satellite technology to monitor a user by having them check in and out at set time periods. If a user doesn’t check in when they’re supposed to, a reminder is sent. If it’s ignored, the app sends a distress message to pre-programmed contacts with the user’s location.

Greg ter Wolbeek, business manager for YodelMe, said he and founder Aaron Kilback contacted the outreach group after reading about it in a local newspaper.

“It just struck me that hang on, this is developed for lone workers, essentially they are lone workers, so perhaps we can help them,” he said.

Lohr said she and the women Hope Outreach works with were excited by the offer to help find a solution to the violence they experience.

“This stuff happens every day and so I guess where I get a little annoyed is we wait for some tragedy to happen to focus any light on it,” she said. “We never really focus on who is picking these women up, why are they out there and what are we going to do to make them safe.”

Details of the pilot project are still in discussion, but Lohr said she hopes to gather groups of 10 women from Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton to begin trying out the app in December. The pilot project is also looking at establishing a neighbourhood watch-type group among sex workers for an added level of security, ter Wolbeek said.

“The idea is to create a Yodel community so people can communicate with one another so if you have an emergency that you’re in, you can see who in your Yodel community is nearby to help you,” said ter Wolbeek. “A nice way to look at it is this app is linking our virtual communities with a real life community.”

Cecilia Benoit, a University of Victoria sociology professor researching sex work in Canada, said the app has potential to give women added security, but the challenge is users need someone they trust in their lives or have trust in the police to be on the receiving end of emergency messages.

“The most vulnerable will be the least likely to have a trustworthy person,” she said.

A more meaningful approach in the longer term would for Hope Outreach or other organizations to use the introduction of the app to connect users with resources, such as housing and employment programs, Benoit said.

“It’s a practical tool that can be helpful but I don’t think it changes the situation. They still need the money, they are still going into these situations,” she said. “When they find a safe home, when they find a support system … they can start building more safety in their lives.”

Lohr said the business of sex work is never going to go away as long as there is a demand and there are vulnerable women with no other alternative.

Until there are more economic opportunities, housing, treatment for addictions and solutions for the other challenges women experience, Lohr said the app may at least help with their safety.

Linda Givetash, The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cowichan Aquatic Centre will reopen on Oct. 13

But facility will only be open on a limited basis for time being

Editorial: $6.5 million for health care badly needed

Help is on the way for people in the Cowichan Valley without a family doctor.

UPDATE: Hundreds march against location of safe injection site in Duncan

A Voice for Our Children opposes centre being near schools, recreation sites

Vancouver Island under a thunderstorm watch tonight

Environment Canada forecasts downpour and possible thunder and lightning

B.C. reports 91 new cases as officials remain worried over ‘clusters of COVID-19

There have now been a total of 8,395 cases in B.C. since the pandemic began

‘Won’t be gathering for Thanksgiving:’ Trudeau says COVID-19 2nd wave underway

In all, COVID-19 has killed about 9,250 people in Canada

Canada’s active COVID-19 cases top 10,000 as daily new cases triple over the past month

Dr. Tam repeated her warning to young people, who have made up the majority of recent cases

First 8 months of fatal overdoses in B.C. have now exceeded 2019 death toll

Nine people died every two days in August, BC Coroners Service data shows

Liberal effort to reset policy agenda panned by rivals as too much talk, not action

Trudeau said it’s ‘all too likely’ families won’t be able to gather for Thanksgiving next month

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

‘Show us the money’ for cannabis, local governments tell B.C.

Municipal tax, transit revenues falling as costs rise

Cops for Cancer: COVID-19 can’t stop Tour de Rock

‘having the chance to come back and ride this year means everything to me’

‘It’s a boy’: Southern Resident killer whale calf born to J Pod is healthy, researchers say

J35 had previously done a ‘Tour of Grief,’ carrying her dead calf for 17 days

Most Read