JUST Committee Report
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The close to 300 witnesses from every walk of life who testified during our study of prostitution laws expressed many different and often contradictory positions. Opinions differed not only as to the nature, causes and effects of prostitution, but also as to the solutions.
Research has tended to focus on the people who sell sexual services on the street. However, as this report will indicate, prostitution operates in various other ways and involves many other players besides the person selling sexual services (client, pimp, agency owner etc.). Empirical research in the field is often silent about certain problems that are frequently associated with prostitution, including organized crime, the drug trade, and trafficking in persons for the purposes of prostitution.
This chapter reviews what the Subcommittee learned during its examination of prostitution laws in relation to prostitution as a whole, its scope, the people who engage in it and the people who profit from it, their experiences and their reasons for engaging in such activities.
When prostitution is discussed, it is often the image of street prostitution that comes to mind. However, according to the testimony provided to the Subcommittee and most studies on the subject, street prostitution accounts for just 5% to 20%9 of all prostitution activity in the country.
Street prostitution is the most visible manifestation for both the public and police, who often have to intervene when residents complain about the presence of persons practising prostitution on their street. As Chapter 4 indicates, the enforcement of prostitution laws generally focuses on people involved in street prostitution, while those who engage in other forms of prostitution “operate with virtual impunity.”
There are various forms of prostitution, and many of them are assisted by advertisements and advances in communications technology, such as cell phones and the Internet. Prostitution takes place on the street, through escort and call-girl services, in massage parlours, private apartments, and in specialty clubs and bars, including strip clubs, hotels and some restaurants.
In addition to the different types of prostitution practised in Canada, witnesses pointed to the variety of settings in which prostitution takes place and the resulting experiences. They reported a range of experiences in prostitution as regards the control that prostitutes have over their bodies, hours, clients, money, etc.
John Lowman, a criminologist who has been studying prostitution for nearly 30 years, describes the Canadian prostitution scene in the following terms:
The Canadian contact sex service trade that which is usually referred to as “prostitution” ranges from female sexual slavery (the gorilla pimp) and survival sex (sale of sexual services by persons with very few other options, such as homeless youth and women in poverty) through to more bourgeois styles of sex trade (including some street prostitution)11 where both adults are consenting, albeit it in a way that is shaped by their gender, occupation, ethnicity, socio-economic status and cultural values.12
The distinctions made by Professor Lowman were corroborated by many of the former and current prostitutes who testified before our Subcommittee.
Maggie deVries, author of a book that tells the story of her sister Sarah (who disappeared, like many other women who sold sexual services on the streets of Vancouver), argued that distinctions must be made in order to understand the fluctuations in these people’s lives and to respond more effectively. On the basis of conversations with prostitutes in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, she wrote the following paragraphs, which she read to the Subcommittee:
It is important to draw a distinction between survival sex and sexual slavery. None of the women I've interviewed were being held against their will. They were doing the best they could with a tough situation; life circumstances had limited their choices. But they did not need to be rescued in the way that one would rescue people who were being held captive. They needed more choices, more connections with the larger world, more services, more education, greater safety. When we equate one thing with another, such as saying that all prostitution is sexual slavery, we limit our capacity to draw distinctions, to understand the actual permutations of people’s lives. And we deny their agency.
My sister was engaged in survival sex. Her choices were limited as long as she could not see a way out of that life. She was locked tight inside her addiction. But she had dignity. Within the scope of her life, she made choices every day. She had the right, I believe, to sell sex whether she hated it or loved it. She had the right to do drugs, to be a drug addict. She could only leave that life if she did so freely. I don’t think there is any way we could have helped her except by increasing her freedom.13
During her testimony, Raven Bowen, coordinator of Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society and member of the BC Coalition of Experiential Women, also addressed this subject, saying:
The PACE Society makes the distinction between sex work and survival sex. Sex work is known to you as prostitution. We define survival sex as the lack of opportunity to consistently exercise the right to refuse customers in any given circumstances.
During our study, we met with individuals who practised prostitution to cope with a drug habit, extreme poverty, mental illness or the effects of a violent past. We also heard from people who said they sold sexual services by choice and with relative autonomy. In each of these groups, women said they had chosen this trade (as the majority of them see it) of their own free will because for them it had more advantages than disadvantages, including flexible hours, decent wages for their level of education, and the opportunity to meet interesting people.14
Not all witnesses who testified during our study of prostitution laws acknowledged the existence of a form of prostitution in which participants are engaged by choice and of their own free will.15 In their opinion, if it is not due to threats from a third party, it is a lack of choice that forces individuals into prostitution.
Some witnesses simply questioned the issue of choice in the debate about prostitution. They consider the issue of choice inappropriate since they regard prostitution as an inherently violent, degrading activity that derives from the exploitation and oppression of women by men. This is what Yolande Geadah told us about the concept of choice:
Of course, when it comes to prostitution, the very concept of consent is a form of violence and exploitation. That is quite clear and all the data points to that. In that environment, you simply can't talk about consent. I think we have to change the way we see prostitution. We have to stop seeing it as an individual choice with no consequences. In fact, it is a choice that has terrible consequences for individuals, even those who were not pressured by someone else.
For the proponents of this view, people who buy sexual services and those who live off the proceeds of prostitution are necessarily abusers, while those engaging in prostitution are relegated to the status of victims: victims of life experiences marked by violence and abuse especially sexual assault during childhood, incest or drug addiction and victims of a society in which women are both sexually and economically oppressed by men.
As the experience of prostitution is, in their view, always marked by exploitation, society’s response must be to completely eradicate prostitution in all its forms.
Because of the illegal nature of many prostitution-related activities, the diversity of the locations where it is practised, and the social opprobrium surrounding prostitution, it is very difficult to determine the extent of prostitution activity in Canada each year or how many people engage in or profit from it (clients, pimps, strip club owners, hotel owners, etc).
None of the witnesses we heard during our study went so far as to provide us with an approximate figure for the scope of prostitution in Canada. Those who addressed the issue, mostly police officers and community organizations, confined their estimates to a particular city or region and generally acknowledged that such estimates are not very reliable.16 They vary with the season or the weather; the economic situation; the presence of special events, such as festivals or sports events; and the movement of prostitutes from one type of prostitution to another or from one city to another.
As to official statistics concerning arrests under sections 210 to 213 of the Criminal Code,17 the consensus is that they tend to reflect law enforcement trends rather than the actual level of prostitution activity in Canada. Roy Jones, Director of the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada, said:
[…] these data represent only those incidents that are reported by police and processed by the justice system, and they should not be considered general measures of prevalence relating to prostitution offences.18
Statistics on Criminal Code offences relating to prostitution demonstrate the fact that individuals engaging in street prostitution are more susceptible to being charged. Historically, more than 90% of prostitution-related incidents reported by police fall under section 213, which prohibits communication in a public place for the purposes of engaging in prostitution.19 For an analysis of prostitution-related arrest statistics, see Chapter 4.
It is very difficult to draw a representative picture of the people who sell sexual services in Canada for the same reasons that it is difficult to gauge the scope of prostitution. Prostitution activities are usually carried out in secret, which makes most of the people involved invisible to conventional research. It is no surprise then, that research into prostitution centres on a specific group those who sell sex on the street.20
This situation is problematic because street prostitution makes up a very small part of prostitution in Canada. It thus undermines any attempt to generalize research results to the entire population. Claire Thiboutot outlined this difficulty in an article presented to the Subcommittee:
[TRANSLATION] Since the media and most of the studies conducted to date have focused primarily on the most visible aspects of sex work, it is difficult to make generalizations about all sex workers based on their results and their profiles. We have information about prisoners, people in detox programs, and so on. Some of the information is about sex work in the lives of these women. However, we have little information about women who have been in sex work for a good part of their lives but have never been jailed, treated in a detox program or assisted by resource centre or shelters that serve prostitutes and sex workers directly.21
In recent years, social science researchers have attempted to fill these knowledge gaps by conducting empirical research in conjunction with organizations defending prostitutes’ rights across the country.22 Their studies tend to show that most generalizations regarding prostitution apply specifically to the people who work on the street and not to everyone who engages in prostitution.23
According to the evidence gathered during this examination and most studies, it is primarily women who sell sexual services. In Canada, they represent between 75% and 80%24 of all people practising prostitution. On the basis of the information the Subcommittee received, the first experience with prostitution is between the ages of 14 and 18.25
For some women, prostitution is a temporary activity, while for others it is a sporadic activity taking place over varying periods of time. During our study, a number of witnesses stressed that very few women stay in prostitution their entire lives.26 It was stated that some of them have a specific financial goal in mind, and stop when they have achieved it.
The evidence we heard suggests that there are many different reasons for getting into prostitution. Some people are forced by a third party, others do it to make ends meet, pay the rent or buy groceries, or to cope with a drug habit or a life marked by violence, incest,27 rejection, etc. Many such people unfortunately become trapped in prostitution. In her testimony, Jane Runner, Program Manager for Transition, Education and Resources for Females (TERF), and a former prostitute, pointed out that it takes a person between 5 and 10 years to leave prostitution. She went on to say:
We are talking about years and years of suffering and abuse, and it takes years and years of healing and a lot of hard work and courageous work on the part of these individuals. Any programs for these people must therefore take this factor into account.28
Although the question of the motivation for going into prostitution raised a number of theories and opinions, many witnesses agreed that a significant number of women are forced into prostitution by economic hardship. In many cases, unstable, unskilled jobs in the service industries do not provide these women with the security and income they need to keep a roof over their heads or support their children. This poverty among women is also linked in particular to the shortage of affordable housing,29 insufficient work experience and poor education.
Finally, it should be noted that the prostitutes we met are not all poorly educated or without work experience. Some of the women who appeared before the Subcommittee in private hearings were university graduates and/or had a number of years of experience in various lawful occupations, such as government, law or social work. They had chosen prostitution of their own will after assessing the pros and cons. Some said that the work gave them the opportunity to meet interesting people, work flexible hours and earn decent wages.
There is a high prevalence of Aboriginal women in prostitution in some parts of Canada. In Winnipeg, for example, city councillor Harry Lazarenko and the police service estimates that they make up 70% of street prostitutes. Winnipeg is not the only city where that is the case. In most large Canadian cities, a disproportionately large number of Aboriginal women are involved in street prostitution.
Compared to other women involved in prostitution, Aboriginal women are more likely to be dealing with drug problems and extreme poverty.30 In addition, an Amnesty International Canada report points out that at least a third of the more than 70 women who disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were Aboriginal.31
The Subcommittee heard that Aboriginal women also face special problems, including racial profiling and excessive police intervention.32 This is what Cheryl Hotchkiss, a human rights campaigner for Amnesty International Canada, had to say about Aboriginal women involved in prostitution in Canada:
The isolation and social marginalization that increases the risk of violence faced by women in the sex trade is often particularly acute for indigenous women.33
Some witnesses stressed the importance of recognizing the special needs and problems of Aboriginal women and girls involved in prostitution. Pamela Downe, a professor in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Saskatchewan, noted in her testimony that intervention on their behalf must take into account the fact that “colonial history actually does lead to a very unique and distinct experience” for Canada’s Aboriginal women.34 She noted further that “it is wrong-headed [for society] to attempt to disentangle their personal experience from the history of their people.”
It is very difficult to determine the extent to which minors are exploited through prostitution in Canada. In addition to the difficulties associated with investigating clandestine activity, researchers face particular problems in the case of youth because of their legal status. For fear of being reported to child protection agencies, few will admit to a researcher or a street support worker that they sell sexual services; few will even give their age.
Despite these obstacles, witnesses stated that increasing numbers of young people are being exploited through prostitution in Canada. Others suggested that their numbers are about the same, but that many young people who used to work the streets have moved to other locations because of increased policing on the streets.36 However, there are currently no national statistics to corroborate or refute these assertions.
According to the testimony, young people and even children enter prostitution for a number of reasons. As compared to adult prostitution, however, children and youth are more commonly forced into prostitution by a third party (pimp).
The following excerpts from testimony pertain to young people and children who are exploited for the purposes of prostitution in Canada and the reasons for that exploitation:
[…] young people working in prostitution are better conceptualized as engaged in survival sex. It is survival sex that is generally sporadic, and it may be only one source of income opportunity among a number that they participate in. Sex for these young people may be exchanged for money, food, a warm place to sleep, or drugs. It’s considered by them to be a practical, utilitarian kind of transaction directed to meet their immediate needs.
Their problem is not prostitution per se but a whole broader array of social marginalization, lack of economic opportunities, lack of family support, and lack of social service supports. And these need to be brought into place to support these young people so they can develop their own autonomy and be able to have the kinds of supports that make them less vulnerable to precisely to the kinds of conditions you suggest.37
In terms of the reality of why youths go there, it’s because we have diminished their hopes, their dreams, and their choices. If you leave a small community and come to Toronto with less than grade 10, your options for survival, employment, and housing are minimal unless you find a way to make money. Your body is something you own, and it’s readily available. The issue of addictions has been part of many of the discussions, and a lot of young people come into prostitution to support habits. Conversely, we also know a lot of young people get involved because they’re dimming the issues that come with being involved in prostitution.38
There are lots of kids who come from very violent homes, and believe me, I’ve talked to them. I’ve been their outreach worker for 14 years. They were better off being on the street than they were being in the children’s aid or in a hostel or being any place other than where they were.39
We learned that young runaways are very vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation, especially those running away from family problems. As noted by Marc Drapeau, of Project Intervention Prostitution Québec Inc, a child that dissociates him or herself from his or her body due to sexual abuse is at greater risk of exploitation through prostitution.40
According to John Lowman and Frances Shaver, males, transvestites and transgendered persons make up about 20% of those involved in street prostitution. At present, there is very little information about participation by these groups in off-street prostitution. On the basis of the information gathered, however, there is every indication that male off-street prostitution tends to be confined to private establishments and clubs.41
Compared to women, studies tend to show that men are less likely to suffer physical violence at the hands of their clients.42 On the other hand, they are more likely to be victims of violence by members of the public; this is particularly true for transvestites and transgendered individuals, who are doubly marginalized.
A number of the witnesses heard by the Subcommittee during its study of the legislation persons selling sexual services, private citizens, police officers and researchers discussed the relationship between drugs and prostitution. For some of them, the two are inseparable, especially in street prostitution. For example, Detective Howard Page of the Toronto Police Service said the following in his testimony:
From speaking with many street-level prostitutes, in the hundreds, over the last five years and in debriefing these females, it’s my experience that the drug addiction to the crack cocaine is actually what’s fuelling their survival on the streets. What happens is it becomes a vicious circle. The addiction to crack cocaine is so strong that $20 is what is known on the street as a “street hit” of crack cocaine. That high will last an individual for 15 minutes.
What happens is once a female is out onto a street corner in the inner city; she is selling her body to the john for as low as $20 for a sexual act. Again, the vicious circle is that […] she goes back to the local street dealer who hangs around the corner, she gets her crack cocaine, and the circle continues.43
In her testimony before the Subcommittee concerning the situation in her neighbourhood, Agnès Connat, a resident of Montréal’s Faubourgs area, also mentioned the apparently close link between drug abuse and street prostitution:
In our suburb, street prostitution is closely tied to drug addiction. We have seen for ourselves that the money doesn’t stay in the prostitutes’ hands for long. Girls step out of the car with a $20 bill and proceed to give it directly to their pushers, because $20 is the price of a hit. I do not know if you are aware that a cocaine addict can shoot up 20, 30 or 40 times a day. Obviously, that requires a great deal of money, and a great deal of tricks to be turned.44
While one expert suggested that there is no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between drug abuse and prostitution,45 there is no question that in some cases prostitution is a means of supporting a drug habit. However, the testimony we heard46 clearly indicates that not all street prostitutes are drug addicts.
Studies tend to show that drug abuse by people who engage in off-street prostitution is much less prevalent.47 This may be explained by the fact that taking drugs and drinking are prohibited or strongly discouraged by many prostitution establishments and escort agencies.48
Although research findings on this issue are often contradictory, there is no doubt that people who have dependency problems are more likely to be exposed to all types of violence and disease, given the vulnerability of their lifestyle, needle sharing, etc. According to Doug Le Pard, Deputy Chief of the Vancouver Police Department, people with very serious drug habits are more likely to be targeted by serial killers.
The most highly addicted sex trade workers are the most likely to be the victims of a serial killer. Their addictions are a far more powerful force than any fears for their safety.49
Witnesses noted that the health of street prostitutes is often fragile, particularly those who use injection drugs.50 According to street support workers, the health problems among prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, are quite varied and in many cases reflect broader difficulties associated with a lack of proper housing. Janine Stevenson, a nurse who works with prostitutes, told the Subcommittee that “[i]t’s everything from malnutrition to sleep deprivation, to pneumonia, to skin conditions […], to mental health issues.”
Studies have also shown that persons who engage in prostitution but are not injection drug users tend to follow safer sexual practices than the general population, particularly with regard to condom use.52 Available information on this issue suggests that the danger of infection for prostitutes tends to be associated with their romantic partners rather than their clients. This can be explained by the fact that they often use condoms to differentiate prostitution from their own sex lives. It is also important to note that studies of the prevalence of HIV infection have long recognized that the risk of contracting and spreading sexually transmitted and blood-borne diseases is highest among injection drug users and not among prostitutes as a group.53
Prostitutes are extremely vulnerable members of society. They’re open to personal and sexual degradation, exploitation, and violence from customers, pimps, and businesses from whose premises they work.54
With the disappearances and sadistic murders of a number of prostitutes, particularly in Vancouver and Edmonton, the public has become aware of the violence to which many prostitutes fall prey in Canada. This violence is not new, and is by no means confined to Vancouver or Edmonton. People who engage in prostitution, particularly street prostitution, are faced with many different types of abuse and violence, ranging from whistles and insults to assault, rape and murder. The violence comes from clients, pimps, drug pushers, members of the public, co-workers and even police officers.
While most studies recognize that violence is more common on the streets, it is not the only place where it occurs. In response to a question related to the presence of violence in prostitution establishments, Chief Superintendent Kevin Vickers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police noted, “I've investigated deaths of young prostitutes who worked for escort agencies. In particular, in Calgary there are two ladies who come to mind who worked specifically for an escort service right in Calgary. So violence is there.”55 This point was also illustrated by Colette Parent, a professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Ottawa, who told the Subcommittee that working conditions in prostitution establishments and agencies vary from very good, respectful environments, to near-slavery. She stated that some massage parlours force women to fulfil their clients’ every fantasy, while others respect their choices and take a greater interest in their welfare. Criminologist John Lowman said much the same thing in his testimony:
Another thing we want to be careful of with the off-street scene is to not look at it as all of a piece. There are some high-end places where really women do have a lot of control over their circumstances. But there are some places where women are being brought in and you have systems of debt bondage, which to me is no different from slavery. You’re working off a debt that you can never pay off.56
On the basis of homicide statistics published by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics (CCJS), prostitution is a very dangerous activity in Canada. Between 1994 and 2003, at least 79 prostitutes were murdered while engaging in prostitution activities. It should be noted that this is almost certainly lower than the real figures, since it includes only those cases in which the police were able to determine that the death occurred during prostitution-related activities.
Nearly all of these victims were women (95% women, 5% men). A study conducted by Statistics Canada in the 1990s suggests that in more than 85% of the cases, the people who committed the homicides were clients. Three-quarters of the 79 homicides mentioned in the CCJS study occurred in the following metropolitan areas: Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, Montréal, Winnipeg and Ottawa-Gatineau.57
This extreme violence against people involved in prostitution is also of interest to criminologist John Lowman of Simon Fraser University, who has compiled data on murders of persons engaging in prostitution in British Columbia between 1960 and 1999. It should be noted that in contrast to the CCJS data, Professor Lowman’s homicide statistics are not limited to the murder of prostitutes while they were engaged in prostitution activities.
Professor Lowman’s statistics are presented in the table below. It should be noted that the data for the 1995-1999 period are incomplete, since a number of women who apparently disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside during that time frame have not yet been found.
Number of prostitutes murdered in British Columbia
Number of homicides
*Fragmentary data since not all the women who disappeared during this period have been found.
Source: Brief submitted to the Subcommittee by John Lowman, 2005.
The table shows a substantial increase in murders of known prostitutes in the mid-1980s, jumping from 8 in 1980-1984 to 22 in 1985-1989. According to Professor Lowman, this increase is associated with the addition to the Criminal Code of the section prohibiting communication in a public place for the purposes of prostitution (section 213) and with the campaign to move prostitution off the streets, which began at about the same time. Professor Lowman argued in his appearance that the criminal law jeopardizes prostitutes by forcing them to conclude their negotiations with their clients too quickly, thereby compromising their ability to report any violence they endure to the police and forcing them to be very secretive. The impact of legislation on prostitution will be discussed in detail in Chapter 5.
Violence against persons who engage in prostitution is also well documented in studies based on in depth interviews with people engaging in prostitution. According to some studies, assault of all types, including sexual assault, is commonplace among people who engage in prostitution-related activities, especially those who work on the street. The results of a survey conducted in Vancouver showed that three-quarters of those interviewed had been victims of violence in the six months preceding the survey.58
Much less is known about violence against people involved in off-street prostitution. As we have seen, these people are often invisible to conventional research, or at least more difficult to reach. However, according to witnesses, it would appear that off-street prostitutes are generally subject to less violence.59
For those who engage in street prostitution, insults and harassment from members of the public, business owners and police officers are often daily occurrences.60 The stigmatization of prostitutes exposes them to various forms of violence. They are often regarded as criminals and second-class citizens, and some people feel justified in humiliating them, harassing them, throwing things at them and even physically abusing them.
According to some witnesses,61 the media contribute significantly to this stigmatization. The feelings expressed by a number of prostitutes concerning the media’s role are effectively summarized by Kyla Kaun, Director of Public Relations for Vancouver’s Prostitutes Empowerment Education Resource Society (PEERS):
I think [the media] are the biggest contributors to [stigmatization] with the kind of language that’s used, which we equate to hate speech, to be quite frank. Terminology like “crack whore” just is not a way you’re going to ask the general public to be considering compassion towards someone like this. As well, there are the images. Almost always it is the worst picture that has ever been taken of this particular individual. Don’t tell me there isn’t a grad picture or something that is much more attractive. But no, it’s their mug shots; it’s when they’ve been strung out. It’s all of those awful images they put out there that make us look at them and say, “Why would we want to save that life?” If they use her grad picture or a picture of her with her children or her family, then we are going to have a different feeling about that individual than from the image we see of her being arrested.62
In the course of its study, the Subcommittee learned that many officers are sensitive to prostitutes’ lives, especially those who are part of local vice squads. In fact, many prostitutes told the Subcommittee that they had a good relationship with such officers.
However, other testimony revealed the difficult relationship that can exist between police officers and persons who engage in prostitution. Some witnesses alleged that they are physically assaulted by police officers.63 Here is what Maggie deVries had to say in her testimony concerning her sister Sarah’s experience with some police officers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside:
She told me a series of stories about experiences she had with the police. These are stories about individual police officers not about the police, but individual police officers of being beaten by police officers. I keep hearing these kinds of stories of women who are sex workers in Vancouver who have violent experiences at the hands of police officers. It didn’t happen once or twice; it has happened to them regularly, with different police officers at different times.64
Such violence was also documented by Pivot Legal Society in a report entitled To Serve and Protect: A Report on Policing in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The report describes acts of violence allegedly committed by members of the police department in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside against 50 people engaged in street prostitution in the area in 2002.65
Violence against persons who practise prostitution is also related to the fact that some police officers do not take the violence committed against them seriously, often regarding it as an inherent part of prostitution and believing that no one who engages in such activities should be surprised at being mistreated.66 Darlene Palmer, a support worker with Cactus Montréal, told us the following:
Some women have told me that when they have told a police officer about an injury suffered, or a bad client in the area, the police officers simply say: “That is just part of the game, sweetheart.” No. It is not just part of the game.67
In her testimony, Renée Ross, president of Halifax’s Stepping Stone program, pointed out how much the attitudes of members of the Halifax police service varied:
You do have one part of the police force that is rehabilitating, that is providing support, but within that same police force you also have the vice squad, and the vice squad is where we see a lot of the problems. A couple of months ago one of our program users was violently beaten. She went home and called the police. A policeman came to her door. He saw who it was, because she was known to them. He picked up the phone and called in to headquarters and said “It’s just a prostitute,” and he left.68
We also learned that the majority of prostitutes do not report assaults against them for fear of not being taken seriously, of being judged or treated as criminals for engaging in prostitution.
We know very little about the clients of prostitution, except they are mostly men.69 There have been few studies on the subject in Canada. During the Subcommittee’s study, only a few witnesses, among them Rose Dufour, John Lowman and Richard Poulin, presented statistics about clients.
Richard Poulin stated in his testimony that 10% to 15% of men in North America buy sexual services.70 John Lowman noted that contrary to popular belief, not all clients of prostitution are looking for sex. According to Professor Lowman, who has been studying clients of prostitution since the 1990s, 15% to 20% of them are actually looking for affection. He indicated that what really drives them to buy prostitution-related services is the need to be touched, to have friendly contact with someone. The testimony of people engaged in prostitution corroborates Professor Lowman’s findings. Many prostitutes told us about the services they provide to clients who, for a number of reasons, must pay for this form of intimacy (they may have a serious disability, have difficulty socializing, etc).
The testimony also suggests that, rather than a single type of client, there is a wide variety. As noted by Melissa Farley, a researcher for Prostitution Research and Education, “There is no typical profile of the average customer. It’s men aged 14 to 80; it’s men of every age; it’s men of every race and ethnic background; and it is men of every […] level…”71 Based on interviews with 64 prostitution clients, anthropologist Rose Dufour noted that two-thirds of clients had been or were married at the time of the interview, about one third were single and half were fathers. She also noted that close to 40% of clients were looking for domination in the act of prostitution.
Testimony indicated that the majority of clients are not violent men. Witnesses stated that “a lot of the johns they have, the regular johns, are good to them. They pay them. They take care of them.”
Finally, Professor Lowman’s research suggests that there are significant differences between the clients of street prostitution and clients of off-street prostitution. According to Lowman, violent and abusive clients choose street prostitution rather than other forms of prostitution because of its anonymity. He noted that clients who are interested in abusing prostitutes are well aware that the risk of being seen and thus reported is higher with prostitution carried out in establishments and through agencies. He made the following remarks:
If a man is predatory, misogynistic, and out to hurt women, he’s going to go to the prostitution strolls where he cannot be found, cannot be detected, won’t be seen, or whatever the situation is.73
According to the Criminal Code, anyone who manages a prostitution business or lives off the avails of prostitution can be termed a “procurer”. This definition is in fact much broader than the traditional image of the pimp, which refers to a person who exploits one or more persons in forced prostitution. According to the testimony, procuring arrangements vary according to the type of relationship for example, coercive relationships, business relationships, romantic relationships and friendships.
The differences between this broad criminal definition of procurement and the narrower definition of pimping can explain some of the contradictions emerging from the testimony gathered by the Subcommittee on this issue. Use of the broader definition of procurement could explain the high numbers obtained by Richard Poulin, who stated that “between 85 and 90% of prostitutes in the Western world are under the control of a pimp”;74 and Aurélie Lebrun, who stated that a “significant proportion” of prostitutes work for a pimp.75
For the purposes of the following commentary, the Subcommittee uses the term “pimping” in reference to the traditional image of the pimp the coercive relationship rather than the broader scope of activities encompassed within the Criminal Code definition of procurement.
The public generally believes that adults who engage in prostitution are forced into it by a third party. However, according to the evidence gathered, people who are forced into prostitution against their will by a third party are by no means in the majority, at least among adult prostitutes, as our subcommittee’s study focuses on adult prostitution. In her testimony before the Subcommittee, Deborah Brock, a professor in York University’s Sociology Department, stated that most Canadian studies cast doubt on this virtually automatic association between the pimp and the adult prostitute:
[…] so much of the research out there for example, the work of John Lowman, Fran Shaver, and others across the country indicates that perhaps the role of pimps in prostitution is over-determined and that the majority of women actually do work independently in the business.76
During our study, police officers noted that more people were forced into street prostitution by drug addiction than by pimps. Detective Howard Page of the Toronto Police Service stated:
The Hollywood aspect of the pimp standing on the corner waiting for the prostitute to return to him and the money being turned over to him or to others is not what we’re seeing in downtown Toronto. Again, the drug itself, the crack cocaine, is the pimp to the prostitutes who are working on the corners in downtown Toronto.77
A survey conducted in the 1980s on behalf of the Fraser Committee found that 60% of respondents regarded organized crime as a major factor in prostitution. However, that perception was not supported by the information that the Committee gathered during its study. The Fraser Committee reached the following conclusion: “On the basis of our other information, we would suggest that the public’s perceptions are incorrect.”78 In another part of the report, the Committee stated that:
[…] we found no evidence to suggest a link between prostitution and organized crime. That is, there is no large-scale or interconnecting organization which in a highly organized way recruits, controls or moves women and men through prostitution circuits. Certainly, some street prostitutes are controlled by pimps and some call-girls are subject to the strict regulations of the madam for whom they work, but this sort of organization appears to be small-scale and each operation in a city is typically independent of the others.79
The connection between organized crime and prostitution was frequently mentioned during our study of prostitution laws.80 Many witnesses asserted that organized crime is involved in prostitution in Canada and other countries. For example, Yolande Geadah, a researcher and author of the book La prostitution : Un métier comme un autre, stated that:
[…] all the studies carried out at the international level, in every country, recognize that organized crime controls the sex industry, including in the Netherlands, which is the country that has gone farthest with respect to liberalization. It is always organized crime calling the shots in the industry. There are two reasons for that: first, it’s extremely profitable, and second, it’s a way of laundering money.81
Richard Poulin also argued that the connection exists, and considers it to be very close, based on international research:
The attitude is that prostitutes are victims of a system of prostitution which is now both global and national and which is linked to organized crime, something that is very well known to police forces. This is clearly shown in the reports of Europol and Interpol and American reports as well: the link is very strong.82
However, very few people who had engaged in or were engaging in prostitution at the time of our study stated that organized crime was a major factor in adult prostitution. Many street support workers and advocates who work closely with these people and a number of researchers interested in the issue made similar statements. For example, Frances Shaver stated the following during her appearance:
[…] there’s no clear indication at all of organized crime being involved. This is also a finding of the Fraser Committee over 20 years ago, and I have found nothing different, nor has it come to my attention that overall it has a major role.83
Professor Colette Parent was also critical of the tendency to associate prostitution with organized crime:
The link made between organized crime and prostitution, in my opinion, is overblown. I’m not saying that there isn’t any relation between the two, but in the research we conducted, we did not note any marked presence of organized crime. I cannot say that we did.84
Although the testimony does not necessarily confirm the alleged link between organized crime and adult prostitution, concerns about the involvement of organized crime are serious and significant and warrant further investigation.
The Subcommittee therefore supports the efforts by the federal, provincial and territorial governments to step up the fight against organized crime. In 1998, the federal, provincial and territorial ministers of Justice signed the Joint Statement on Organized Crime, officially recognizing the need for governments and law enforcement agencies to make a concerted effort against organized crime. In 2000, they recognized this issue as a national priority by adopting the National Agenda to Combat Organized Crime, which has four main components: coordination, legislative and regulatory tools, research and analysis, and communication and public education.85
Trafficking in persons came to international prominence in the 1990s. The wealth of written materials on the subject is a measure of the rising concern about trafficking in persons, often described as “the new global slavery” and “fastest growing international criminal industry.”86
The United Nations estimates that, globally, more than 700,000 people are victims of trafficking in persons each year. According to the UN, the revenues from such trafficking are US$10 billion worldwide.87
Although Canada does not yet have the information needed to assess the scope of this problem nationally, there is no doubt that trafficking in persons is at play in prostitution activities, and that trafficked persons are among the most vulnerable in prostitution. Evidence showed that victims of trafficking face the greatest risks to their health and safety. Some people take advantage of these people’s vulnerability, knowing that they cannot file a complaint without risking deportation. Victims of trafficking and illegal immigrants who are exploited in prostitution are also particularly vulnerable because their legal status often denies them access to health care and social services.
In response to this issue, the House of Commons adopted Bill C-49 in November 2005.88 This act amended the Criminal Code by creating new offences and making various changes to prevent this heinous crime, provide more effective protection for victims, and facilitate prosecution of traffickers.89
Bill C-49 filled a serious gap in our laws by introducing Canada’s first direct legal measures to protect the rights of trafficked persons. More recently, in June 2006, the temporary residency permit program for victims of trafficking provided trafficked persons with easier access to various services that are essential for their health and safety. It is expected that these permits will make it easier for victims to testify and will in turn also facilitate the prosecution of traffickers. The new program allows immigration officers to issue temporary residency permits to trafficking victims. The holders of these permits are exempted from treatment fees and are eligible for medical and social counselling and other health care covered by the Interim Health Program.
|9||Numerous witnesses across Canada testified to this effect, including Yolande Geadah, who noted on 7 February 2005, that street prostitution represents just 3% of prostitution overall. See also the testimony of Joe Ceci, Elizabeth Hudson, Leslie Ann Jeffrey, Gayle MacDonald, François Robillard, Wendy Babcock and “City of Toronto Task Force on Community Safety, A Community Safety Strategy for the City of Toronto,” February 1999, available at www.toronto.ca/safety/sftyrprt.htm, as well as Frances Shaver, “Prostitution: a Female Crime”, in Conflict within the Law: Women in the Canadian Justice System, Vancouver, Press Gang Publishers, 1993. According to Ronald Weitzer, the situation is the same in the United States. See, "Flawed Theory and Method in Studies of Prostitution", in Violence Against Women, 2005, 11(X), p. 11.|
|10||The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Prostitution, established in 1992 by the justice ministers to study the legislation, policies and practices concerning certain prostitution-related activities, argued in its report that the focus on street prostitution “enabled a two tiered sex trade to emerge. More expensive licensed off-street prostitutes operate with virtual impunity while poorer customers and prostitutes, who are mainly on the streets, are routinely arrested.” Report and Recommendations in respect of Legislation, Policy and Practices Concerning Prostitution-Related Activities, December 1998, p. 65.|
|11||A former prostitute confirmed this distinction, pointing out that street prostitution is not necessarily the same as survival prostitution. She noted that some people choose the street because of the advantages it offers in terms of flexible hours, greater control over prices and greater freedom to choose their clients.|
|12||John Lowman, Prostitution Law Reform in Canada, 1998. Available at http://mypage.uniserve.ca/~lowman/.|
|13||Excerpt from Missing Sarah, Penguin Canada, 2003, testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 February 2005.|
|14||For Anastasia Kusyk, a member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto, it is important to look at the entire range of experiences in prostitution with regard to both choice and the prostitute-pimp relationship. In her testimony, she stated: “There are a lot more women who do choose sex work. At 16, I was working the street. I did not have a pimp and I never smoked crack. So you cannot put any of us in a box.” Testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005. A number of other prostitutes made similar statements, including Evan Smith, coordinator of the University of Toronto Genderqueer Group. “I’m a sex trade worker because I’ve chosen to be. I was not abused. There was no one forcing me into it. I don’t have a pimp, other than my landlord who wants rent. I’ve chosen this lifestyle because it’s a way for me to use my body to make money.” Testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|15||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.|
|16||For example, there are reportedly 600 prostitutes known to the Winnipeg police services. See the testimony of Harry Lazarenko, 1 April 2005. Police officers also told the Subcommittee that on any given night in Vancouver, between 30 and 100 prostitutes are working on the streets.|
|17||For a detailed discussion of these sections of the Act, see Chapter 4 of this report.|
|18||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 May 2005.|
|19||Department of Justice Canada, Statistics on Prostitution-related Offences, Criminal Justice Research Unit, Research and Statistics Division, January 2005, p. 2.|
|20||See in particular the testimony of Aurélie Lebrun, a research officer for the Alliance de recherche IREF-Relais femmes, and Frances Shaver, a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University. The Fraser Committee also remarked on the lack of information about the other types of prostitution.|
|21||Claire Thiboutot (Stella), Lutte des travailleuses du sexe: perspectives féministes, 2005. Available at http://www.cybersolidaires.org/prostitution/docs/ffq2.html.|
|22||See in particular the studies submitted to the Subcommittee by John Lowman of Simon Fraser University, Christine Bruckert and Colette Parent of the University of Ottawa, Frances Shaver of Concordia University, Deborah Brock of York University, Leslie Ann Jeffrey of the University of New Brunswick, Gayle MacDonald of St. Thomas University, and Jacqueline Lewis and Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale of the University of Windsor. Data from their studies and many others are presented in the next few sections.|
|23||See in particular the testimony of Christine Bruckert and Colette Parent, John Lowman and Frances Shaver.|
|24||Professor John Lowman stated in his testimony that there are “about five female sex sellers for every male sex seller [on the street]. Now, that would include boys who dress as boys; transvestites, i.e., males who cross-dress; and transgendered persons who have not finished a sex change …. When you get into the off-street trade, I think it’s a lot more difficult to make an estimate.” Testimony before the Subcommittee, 21 February 2005.|
|25||It should be noted that this is a very controversial point, as indicated by the many contradictory accounts heard by the Subcommittee on the matter.|
|26||See in particular the testimony of Marie-Andrée Bertrand, Professor Emerita, School of Criminology, Université de Montréal, 14 February 2005.|
|27||Some witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee, including the Regroupement québécois des Calacs, Lyne Kurtzman of the Alliance de recherche IREF-Relais femme, and Rose Dufour, an independent researcher and author of a book on prostitution, argued that there is a close link between incest, sexual assault and prostitution. The statistics used to support the connection have been heavily criticized. Some researchers, including Frances Shaver of Concordia University, questioned the connection: “If we really want to know whether an experience or a history of childhood sexual and physical abuse has something to do with ending up in prostitution, then we need to do a study that starts first with a sample of Canadians. Then we want to sort those according to who has been abused and who hasn't, and then we want to look at the proportions of those who were abused — at what proportion ends up in the sex trade and what proportion don't — and the proportions of those who were not abused and what percentage end up in the sex trade and what percentage do not. This research has not been conducted.” Frances Shaver, testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.|
|28||Appearance before the Subcommittee, 1 April 2005|
|29||Kate Quinn, a member of Edmonton’s Safer Cities Advisory Committee, stated in her testimony: “We know, for instance, too that a lack of affordable housing contributes to prostitution. Fifty-three per cent of the women who asked for help from our diversion program had no stable housing at the time of arrest. They are either absolutely homeless, crashing at drug houses, crowding with others into one-bedroom apartments, staying at cheap hotels, or couch surfing. Women are selling their bodies in our city for rent. It's hard to get off the street when you have no place to go. It's impossible to feel safe when you have no safe place to rest and recover.”|
|30||See in particular the testimony of Maurganne Mooney, Aboriginal Legal Service of Toronto, 15 March 2005, and Beverly Jacobs, Native Women’s Association of Canada, 1 April 2005.|
|31||See Stolen Sisters: Discrimination and Violence Against Indigenous Women in Canada, an Amnesty International Canada report, 2004.|
|32||See the testimony of Maurganne Mooney, Aboriginal Legal Service of Toronto, 15 March 2005, and Beverly Jacobs, Native Women’s Association of Canada, 1 April 2005.|
|33||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 11 April 2005.|
|34||The social, economic, and political lives of Aboriginals in Canada are shaped by the effect of assimilation policies that have often resulted in the loss of Aboriginal traditions, languages, etc. For more information, see also the testimony of Maurganne Mooney, Cheryl Hotchkiss, and Beverley Jacobs.|
|35||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 20 April 2005.|
|36||As noted by Susan Miner, Director of Street Outreach Services about the situation in Ontario, “The extent of the problem of child and youth commercialized sexual exploitation in Ontario is both blatant and hidden. Street prostitution is deemed to be very entry level and is obvious and visible. Escorting, cell phones, massage parlours, cybersex, pimping, and personal ads provide hidden venues, and the number of youths involved is indeterminable.” Testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|37||Professor Deborah Brock, Department of Sociology, York University, testimony before the Subcommittee, 9 February 2005.|
|38||Susan Miner, Director, Street Outreach Services, testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|39||Anastasia Kusyk, an outreach worker and a member of the Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto, testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|40||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 March 2006.|
|41||See in particular the testimony of Staff Sergeant Terry Welsh, Ottawa Police Service, 6 April 2005.|
|42||Susan McIntyre, Strolling Away, Department of Justice, August 2002; P Aggleton ed Men Who Sell Sex: International on Male Prostitution and HIV/AIDS (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999); R Valera et al, “Perceived Health Needs of Inner-City Street Prostitutes” (2001)25 American Journal of Health Behaviour p. 50-59; Frances Shaver et al, “Gendered Prostitution in the San Francisco Tenderloin” (1999)28 Archives of Sexual Behaviour p. 503-521; Frances Shaver, Prostitution Portraits: A Cautionary Tale, paper tabled with the Subcommittee. This information was also corroborated by testimony during in camera hearings.|
|43||Detective Howard Page, Toronto Police Service, testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|44||Agnès Connat, a member of the Association des résidants et résidantes des Faubourgs de Montréal, testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 March 2005.|
|45||According to criminologist Serge Brochu, the connection between drugs and prostitution is in fact one of interdependence. See Serge Brochu, Drogues et criminalité, une relation complexe, Montréal: Presses de l’Université de Montréal, 1995.|
|46||Including John Lowman, Maggie deVries, Frances Shaver, Valérie Boucher and persons involved in prostitution.|
|47||Studies by Frances Shaver and John Lowman in particular tend to show that most prostitutes do not take hard drugs. In her testimony, Frances Shaver stated that “Findings in more recent Canadian research indicate that many of the people involved in sex work are not using hard drugs, or if they are, can control their habits. This is even more likely to be the case for those involved in off-street work.” See also, Conseil permanent de la jeunesse, Vu de la rue: les jeunes adultes prostitué(e)s Rapport de recherche, Gouvernement de Québec, 2004.|
|48||In camera hearings.|
|49||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.|
|50||See the testimony of Glen Betteridge, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 15 March2005, and Maria Nengeh Mensah, Professor-Researcher, School of Social Work, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2 May 2005.|
|51||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.|
|52||Testimony of Maria Nengeh Mensah, Professor-Researcher, School of Social Work, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2 May 2005.|
|53||Ibid. See also Healthy Public Policy: Assessing the Impact of Law and Policy on Human Rights and HIV Prevention and Care. Summary Report, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, 2003; Sex, Work, Rights: Reforming Canadian Criminal Laws on Prostitution, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, July 2005, p. 25-26|
|54||Gwendolyn Landolt, National Vice-President, Real Women Canada, testimony before the Subcommittee, 14 February 2005.|
|55||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 13 April 2005.|
|56||Professor John Lowman, Simon Fraser University, testimony before the Subcommittee, 21 February 2005.|
|57||Roy Jones, Director, Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada, testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 May 2005.|
|58||John Lowman and L. Fraser, Violence Against Persons Who Prostitute: The Experience in British Columbia, Research, Statistics and Evaluation Directorate, Department of Justice, 1995.|
|59||See for example, the testimony of Frances Shaver, Colette Parent, John Lowman, Leslie Anne Jeffrey, and many individuals engaged in prostitution.|
|60||It is important to recognize that communities are also victims of prostitution-related activities. Finding the appropriate balance in order to minimize harm to both communities and prostitutes is the Subcommittee’s primary goal. The issue of harm to communities will be dealt with further in Chapter 3.|
|61||See, for example, the testimony of Cherry Kingsley, Nick Ternette, Jen Clamen and Kyla Kaun. It is important to note that this issue was frequently raised during the Subcommittee’s in camera sessions with prostitutes.|
|62||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 29 March 2005.|
|63||See in particular the testimony of Pivot Legal Society, Maggie deVries and Renée Ross of Halifax’s Stepping Stone program.|
|64||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 February 2005.|
|65||This document is available at http://www.pivotlegal.org/.|
|66||See for example, Star team, Safety security and the Well-Being of Sex Workers, Submission to the Subcommittee, June 2005.|
|67||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 March 2005.|
|68||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 17 March 2005.|
|69||According to the evidence that the Subcommittee heard, increasing numbers of women and couples are using the services of persons who engage in prostitution.|
|70||Richard Poulin, testimony before the Subcommittee, 9 February 2005.|
|71||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.|
|72||Jeannine McNeil, Executive Director, Stepping Stone, 17 March 2005.|
|73||Professor John Lowman, Department of Criminology, Simon Fraser University, testimony before the Subcommittee, 21 February 2005.|
|74||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 May 2005.|
|75||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 21 February 2005.|
|76||Professor Deborah Brock, testimony before the Subcommittee, 9 February 2005.|
|77||Testimony before the Subcommittee, 15 March 2005.|
|78||Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, Report of the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution, Volume 2, 1985, p. 397.|
|79||Ibid., p. 378.|
|80||See in particular the testimony of Lee Lakeman of the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Richard Poulin of the University of Ottawa, Yolande Geadah, Janice Raymond of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Chief Superintendent Frank Ryder of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Gwendolyn Landolt of REAL Women of Canada, Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research and Education, and Jacqueline Lynn.|
|81||Yolande Geadah, independent author and researcher, testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.|
|82||Professor Richard Poulin, Sociology Department, University of Ottawa, testimony before the Subcommittee, 9 February 2005.|
|83||Professor Frances Shaver, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Concordia University, testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.|
|84||Professor Colette Parent, Criminology Department, University of Ottawa, testimony before the Subcommittee, 9 March 2005.|
|85||Statistics Canada’s Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics, Statistics Canada developed a tool in 2001 to gather police data nationally on the activities of criminal organizations. Some data will be available in 2006, pursuant to declaration DUC 2.2 which has since 1988 allowed the CCJS to gather national data on organized crime. For more information, see the article by Lucie Ogrodnik, “Counting Organized Crime,” Gazette, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Vol. 66, No 44, 2004. available at http://www.gazette.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/article-fren.html?category_id=55&article_id=81.|
|86||Irwin Cotler, “Minister of Justice Introduces Bill Targeting Trafficking in Persons,” News Release, Department of Justice, May 12, 2005. Available at |
|87||Department of Justice Canada, Trafficking in Persons: A Brief Description, May 12, 2005. Available at http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/news/nr/2005/doc_31486.html|
|88||Bill C-49 is a response to a commitment made by the government on October 5, 2004, during the Speech from the Throne opening the first session of the 38th Parliament. Speech from the Throne opening the first session of the 38th Parliament of Canada, October 5, 2004, p. 12. Available at http://www.pm.gc.ca/eng/sft-ddt.asp|
|89||Under this Act, trafficking in persons includes the recruitment, transportation or harbouring of persons for the purposes of exploitation in prostitution or forced labour.|