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Sex-trade worker Cherry Kingsley is taking part in the Living Library project during the Olympics at 33 East Hastings in Vancouver, BC.

LAURA LEYSHON/laura leyshon The Globe and Mail

Cherry Kingsley's life story is an open book.

Until the end of the month, Ms. Kingsley will be part of a "living library" put together by Atira Women's Resource Society, a non-profit housing agency in the Downtown Eastside.

Ms. Kingsley, 39, is, on occasion, a sex-trade worker. She prefers that term to prostitute. She's a mother and an injection drug user who's currently on methadone. She's a former foster child who cycled through more than a dozen homes when she was growing up in Ontario. She's been a spokeswoman for prevention of child abuse.

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She knows some people have raised their eyebrows over people being seen as books. She hopes some good will come of it.

"I want the sex trade to be talked about in an intelligent way, I want women to be talked about in an intelligent way," Ms. Kingsley said in a recent interview in a Hastings Street store that will serve as the "library" during the Olympic Games.

"We have to get a grip on the violence. We have to do better than we're doing now."

The human library concept began in Copenhagen a decade ago, when a youth group put together an event that matched human "books" with borrowers as part of an anti-violence campaign.

Since then, the concept has spread around the world.

New Westminster's Douglas College launched the first in Canada in 2006.

It proved such a hit that the college maintains the "collection" online, and next month will launch a series with the Coquitlam Public Library that will feature, among other "titles," a police officer, a midwife and a funeral director.

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Participants in Atira's Living Library project have volunteered.

Those who are employed will not be paid; those who aren't working, including Ms. Kingsley, are to receive $50 gift certificates for groceries and other basics at the end of each week.

The project is advertised at Downtown Eastside Connect, a government-funded information centre on the neighbourhood.

About a dozen people are involved.

In her first session as a book, Ms. Kingsley answers a barrage of questions. She arrived in B.C. when she was 14, a runaway with an older man. She recalls walking down Davie Street, wide-eyed at the palm trees on English Bay.

That night, her companion told her they were out of money and that she'd have to go to work. She understood what that meant.

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Cherry Kingsley is her real name. "It's on my birth certificate," she offered.

There is no one type of man who buys sex.

There are drunken, young men on a tear, husbands with baby seats in the back of the car and violent misfits, the guys who show up on the neighbourhood's bad date list.

She supports the idea of brothels, saying they would allow women like her to avoid the dangerous alleys and rooms where they now ply their trade.

Asked if she's ever been attacked or beaten, she said she's managed to avoid some of the worst trouble. But she knows many who haven't.

"Everybody I grew up with is dead. Dead by suicide. Murdered. AIDS. Drugs. Everybody's dead."

It's not known if any of the foreign journalists descending on Vancouver during the Games will take advantage of the library.

They can walk a block in any direction from the storefront and find all the scenes they need to put together a warts-included portrait of the neighbourhood.

And the venture could fizzle if the "books" decide the interviews are too time consuming, humiliating or painful.

Ms. Kingsley doesn't know if anybody will show up at the Living Library.

If they do, she thinks she could do up to three interviews a day.

She answers all questions, but some bring her to tears.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More


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