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

Firefighters and RCMP are on scene at a fire on Douglas Street. (Jocelyn Doll - Revelstoke Review)
PHOTOS: Firefighters battling blaze on Douglas Street

RCMP are also on scene and blocking off access to the street

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 18 COVID-19 cases, highest daily count since July

The total of COVID-19 cases in the region is now at 662

A Kelowna clinic decided to immunize their patients in a drive-thru flu clinic earlier this month. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
Interior Health anticipates increase in flu vaccinations this season

Some 300,000 doses of flu vaccine ready for distribution across Southern Interior

Zuzana Riha’s last exhibition at the Revelstoke Visual Arts Centre was in October 2018. She has another coming up in November 2020. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke gallery exhibition opening coming Nov. 5

The November show will feature Zuzana Riha in the main gallery

Snowfall in the Okanagan shatters records. (Contributed)
Snowfall in Okanagan breaks records dated back to 1899

Penticton has received over 10 cm today, surpassing the 8 cm record set in 1957

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Voters are saying they felt safe voting in person despite the current pandemic. (Phil McLachlan - Capital News)
Central Okanagan voters talk about their pandemic election experience

Despite an election taking place during COVID-19, residents said they felt safe voting in person

Cole Collingwood casts his mock ballot at Vernon’s Mission Hill Elementary School ahead of the provincial election Oct. 24, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
PHOTOS: Okanagan students cast mock election ballots

At Mission Hill Elementary, the election is a chance to learn about the democratic process

Thanks to efforts by a Kelowna shelter and Elections BC, anyone who wishes to can vote in the 2020 BC Provincial Election, even if they don’t have a fixed address. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
Kelowna group ensures people experiencing homelessness can vote

Shelter supervisor says voting ‘a fundamental right’ even for those without a fixed address

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

(Big White Ski Resort photo)
Big White receives 21 cm of snow in 24 hours

Resort’s snow base 41 cm deep, one month until opening day

The deer were allegedly shot within Princeton town limits, late at night. Black Press File Photo.
Armed man, in full camouflage, allegedly shoots deer in downtown Princeton

‘The list of charges goes on and on,’ said RCMP Sgt. Rob Hughes

Most Read