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Kelowna gets education on prostitution

Men and women embroiled in Kelowna's sex trade will be offered a way out of harmful patterns through a new program casually dubbed the John and Jane school.

The  Prostitution Offender Program basically gives those who have been caught in the cycle of prostitution a chance to attend a workshop in exchange for having criminal charges dropped. The pilot portion of the program was completed by Kelowna's street level service workers last November, and initial feedback has led them to believe that positive change on Kelowna's streets is in the offing.

"It's interesting to see," said Shelley Cook, executive director of the local John Howard Society, which runs the John school portion of the program. It already has had 13 graduates from the one day program.

"We see men come into the program with some discomfort, then they really start to engage," she said. "We open their eyes, big time."

Cook explained that key to conveying the pitfalls of partaking in the sex trade is highlighting the far reaching impacts.

"They're not thinking about what they're doing," she said, noting that those who take part in harmful behaviours tend to normalize their actions and "pull the wool over their own eyes."

The don't necessarily contemplate about how prostitution fuels things like the drug trade  and, in turn makes the community less safe for everyone—particularly their own families.

"If we can start educating people on the impact of their behaviour, then hopefully we can change it," she said.

Conversely, on the Jane side of the education program, there's a push to offer resources to women, so they take themselves out of the sex trade.

"We can offer opportunities for women to come to program, and attend other programs for housing and support," said Liz Talbott, Executive Director - NOW Canada Society.

Already, Talbott has seen some positive change from the pilot project.

"We know that one of the ladies that has come out of it is going to transitional housing with supports in the community, " she said.

"We're keeping touch with people coming from the program.  There are gaps in service in Kelowna, but we have also got some fantastic resources out there. And it's like anything, when you don't know what's out there, you can't take advantage of them."

The program is self-sustaining through a fee-for-service paid by male referrals, a significant portion of which goes back to NOW Canada to assist in providing the program for women.

In addition, 100 per cent of the women from Kelowna and Vernon who registered for the program  attended and successfully completed the two and a half day initiative.  NOW is already receiving interest from other communities and hopes to receive referrals from them in the future.

The pilot-offering of these programs was made possible thanks to generous funding grants through the United Way and is delivered through a partnership between the local Mounties, John Howard Society, NOW Canada, Living Positive Resource Centre, E Fry Society, UBC Okanagan, Downtown Kelowna Association.

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