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Former Whistler student makes a difference in the downtown eastside



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A recent survey shows that over 47 per cent of women in the sex trade industry have had head injuries from assaults. Wilson has witnessed first hand the results of this violence.

"The things that happen to these women that one of their John’s has done to them – it’s insane," she said.

"I couldn’t even fathom anybody reacting in that fashion. They come in with the bluest, purplest bruises, the biggest cuts, torn hair. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the world that surrounds us and that’s, I suppose, depressing – but in a way it’s actually motivating. It motivates me to try to go out there and make the world a better place because there’s so much need."

Wilson said WISH is a haven for these women. It’s a small step in making the downtown eastside a better place. The drop-in centre is open six nights a week from 6 to 10 p.m. to female sex trade workers only. There, in an 800-square-foot room at the First United Church on the corner of Gore and East Hastings Streets, they can get a hot meal, they can get make-up and hygiene products, they can visit the nurse, take a shower, work on their literacy or some arts and crafts. Or maybe they can just sit for a few hours in a place where they know they’re safe. When the doors open at 6 p.m. there’s a mad rush from outside.

Wilson has done the gamut of volunteer jobs at WISH from serving and preparing food to helping with the make-up.

Each has challenges.

"In make-up you sometimes get make-up thrown at you and you get pretty verbally abused at times," she said.

Though she can stand up for herself, Wilson said she prefers serving food at the centre. There she can see a wonderful transformation every night.

She said many women are hypoglycemic when they come in, some of them having gone without food for six days at a time. After they eat she said they turn into "teddy bears."

Since WISH first opened its doors in the spring of 1987, the number of workers using the centre has increased from roughly five to about 150 women. This is just a portion of the thousands of survival sex trade workers in Vancouver.

Wilson admits that it’s hard sometimes, especially knowing that many of the women won’t be able to stop the cycle of abuse.

"What we truly try to do is accept them for who they are and provide self-esteem or provide an environment where they can actually understand or think about what their choices are and possibly take that step off the street... possibly," said Wilson.