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

The track washrooms will be opened up again next year in May. (Priyanka Ketkar photo/Lakes District News)
Toilets, sinks torn off, graffiti on walls at the Burns Lake track washroom

“Seems to happen once or twice a year” says the Village CAO on the vandalized track washroom

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Horgan, Cullen apologize for Stikine candidate’s comments about Haida candidate

Nathan Cullen had made insensitive comments about Roy Jones Jr. Cheexial

The pile burning will occur to the south of François Lake. (Submitted/Lakes District News)
Pile burning and rehab work on three areas south of François Lake

Smoke might be visible for Burns Lake and neighboring areas

Participants earlier this year in March for Lakes Loppet at the ski club. (Lakes District News file photo)
How is Omineca Ski Club prepping for this ski season?

Covid restrictions, social distancing but ski season to continue

FOR WEB ONLY. (Lakes District News file photo)
Question Bill C-7, says this reader

Editor: Have you ever felt strongly convicted about something one day and… Continue reading

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry presents modelling of COVID-19 spread in B.C., March 25, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 203 new cases

up to 1,766 active cases in B.C., two more deaths

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Rio Tinto Alcan’s aluminum smelter at Kitimat competes against producers in the Middle East and Russia that have no carbon tax. (Rio Tinto)
B.C. carbon tax highest in Canada, export industries unprotected

B.C. NDP, B.C. Liberals say they’re looking at exemptions

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Pixabay)
Vancouver teacher suspended after swearing, touching students and complimenting underwear

McCabe touched students, including rubbing their backs and necks, touching their hair and hugging them

A glimpse of some of the 480 (approx) cars written off as a result of the acid spills along the Trail highway in 2018. Photo: Trail Times
2 years after huge highway acid spill, Kootenay Ford dealer’s frustration grows with ICBC

Trail AM Ford owner Dan Ashman says he just wants fair compensation from ICBC

Mail-in ballot from Elections BC (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
At least 26% of eligible voters have already cast their ballot, Elections BC says

Voters can cast a ballot until 8 p.m PST on Election Day

Most Read