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JUST Committee Report

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Not all the witnesses the Subcommittee heard in the course of its study agree on the harm caused by prostitution. Points of view ranged from those who regard prostitution as an act of violence against all women, to the other end of the spectrum — those who believed that it amounts to an exchange of sexual services between consenting adults, which is not a problem in and of itself. This latter point of view adopts the perspective that it is not the act of prostitution that threatens communities, but rather the criminal activities of certain persons who are involved in it, including those who exploit women and children by forcing them into prostitution, or those whose behaviour has negative consequences on their environment, such as disturbing the peace and harassing the residents of a neighbourhood.

However, all witness agreed that street prostitution is the source of many problems for the residents of the neighbourhoods affected by it, including business people operating in those streets and people who walk through the affected areas every day on their way to work, school, day care, etc.

Testimony the Subcommittee heard from the residents, business people and community groups directly affected by street prostitution suggests that the problems due to this activity often have more to do with the fact that some of the people involved in this type of prostitution are grappling with many problems, including drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness. The nuisances associated with street prostitution are screaming and fighting, abusive behaviour, harassment by clients, used condoms and needles littering public places, noise, etc.90

This chapter addresses the effects prostitution has on the people engaging in it, on women in general, and on the communities where street prostitution takes place. It presents the points of view of many people appearing before the Subcommittee who are directly affected by street prostitution, as well as the views of researchers and advocates who examined the general effects of prostitution on women, families and communities.


Some researchers and advocates pointed to the importance of recognizing that prostitution is a violent act directed not only at female prostitutes, but indeed at all women. In their view, allowing adults to exchange sexual services for money, even if they are consenting and fully aware of what is happening, reinforces the idea that a woman’s body is a commodity. In this regard, Madeline Boscoe, Coordinator of the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg, noted:

Legitimizing prostitution reinforces the belief that women and our bodies are commodities. This, in turn, reinforces the stigmatization of all women, affecting our role in society and our equality.91

The following excerpts from testimony illustrate the view that prostitution violates the human dignity of women, men and children by making their bodies commodities subject to a commercial transaction:

Prostitution is harmful. It's the selling of a human body for the sexual pleasure of someone else. It's degrading, it's dehumanizing. Simply, human dignity is lost in the act of prostitution. Prostitution has many harmful effects on the prostitutes themselves, the clients, and their families. As a prostitute sells sex as a service to a customer, the dignity of women and men is demeaned.92

We would understand that the process whereby a prostituted woman comes to view herself as product and merchandise is the worst form of dehumanization imaginable, and that prostitution in all its forms is sexual assault against all women and a violation of their basic human rights.93

Prostitution violates human dignity by distorting human sexuality and commodifying sexual intimacy. It harms its participants, both physically and emotionally.94

There is nothing about the activities related to prostitution that in any way promotes human dignity or worth. As a matter of fact, by distorting human sexuality and commodifying human intimacy […] what should be acts of love and sexual intimacy are made into commercial transactions without a thought given to any short-term or long-term implications for the people involved. Prostitution is harmful to all its participants, both physically and emotionally.95

Those who hold this view also consider that prostitution has devastating effects on those practising it. According to Yolande Geadah, women and men who sell sexual services are destroying themselves from the inside. She compares the act of prostitution to a “slow suicide.”96

A Point of View Perceived as Moralistic

Throughout the Subcommittee’s study, this view of prostitution was strongly challenged by many former and current prostitutes, researchers and advocates. These witnesses regarded this position as moralistic. They claimed that there was nothing inherently violent in the exchange of a sexual service for money. Rather, as is explored in more detail in Chapter 5, they felt that what makes prostitution dangerous is the stigma associated with prostitutes and the way the legal system deals with prostitution.

Most of the prostitutes appearing before the Subcommittee refused to be labelled as victims and rejected the description of their “work” — which is how they regard prostitution — as alienating, inherently violent and a form of oppression of women by men. They pointed out that not all women perceive sex the same way and that some women do not feel it is degrading to engage in sex without love or intimacy. On that subject, Valérie Boucher, who works with an organization called Stella in Montréal, stated:

It’s true that sex work is very closely tied to sexuality. It is very difficult for women and for some segments of the population to imagine that certain women see their sexuality differently. And yet for many women, sex is not something that absolutely must be shared in circumstances involving intimacy and love, and without which one is degraded.

I, personally, was a sex worker for a certain period of time. I've been working with women now for some eight years, including four at Stella's. I don't feel broken inside either because of my customers or the type of work I did. What does hurt me, though, is the stigma attached to it. It's the way people talk about me as someone who has been degraded or who consented, but not totally, because she was alienated. I didn't know I was alienated, but it would seem that I was. As a result, I said yes, but in reality, my “yes” didn't mean anything. That hurts me much more than the work I did, with its good and bad sides. That's for sure.97


1. What the Subcommittee Learned about the Effects of Street Prostitution

Street prostitution has repercussions wherever it occurs. The Subcommittee learned in the course of its study is that when street prostitution occurs in residential areas, its effects on the community are most harmful, particularly for residents forced to deal with it day and night. The residents of these neighbourhoods often feel afraid and frustrated, as one Alberta resident noted:

I live in a community of victims deprived of their liberty and security. Residents, including women and children, who exercise their right to walk in their community, are subjected to constant john traffic, being solicited for sex, seeing prostitutes and johns having sex in cars in public view, prostitutes who indecently expose themselves, needle and condom litter, and sometimes assault or robbery. They are frustrated and frightened.98

Much harm is associated with street prostitution. For residents of affected areas especially, but also for those who walk through the neighbourhood and business people who own stores there, street prostitution raises the noise level as there are more cars on the road and more or less frequent altercations between clients or drug dealers and prostitutes. These problems are all the more bothersome for residents since street prostitution takes place at all hours of the day and night.

Used condoms and dirty needles litter the streets, parks, school yards and even private property, also making coexistence between residents, business people and prostitutes difficult.99 Several residents told the Subcommittee that they feared the risks posed by condoms and needles in public and private places to their own health and that of their children. To avoid the worst consequences, some witnesses said that they did not allow their children to play on the lawn, walk to school or even wait at the bus stop.

As noted in all communities we visited, women who live and go about their business in neighbourhoods affected by street prostitution are often harassed by would-be clients. This additional element fuels their fear and insecurity. This often results in the women changing their actions, as confirmed by several Montréal residents.

[…] prostitution has a very negative impact on the lives of women who live and frequent these neighbourhoods. Women who live in an area where there is a lot of street prostitution try to be invisible. They walk quickly with their heads down and do not stop. It is not much fun to live like that.100

Being a woman in a neighbourhood where prostitutes solicit on the street means walking fast, keeping your head down, trying to be invisible. When I walk down the street, I am very careful to walk quickly and look at the ground; I do not want to be harassed.101

According to some witnesses, the harassment problem worsened after prostitutes were displaced elsewhere, increasingly plying their trade further away from one another to avoid arrest. Because it became harder to identify persons selling sexual services, clients harassed female residents more frequently, mistaking them for persons engaging in prostitution.

It would seem that some men who frequent and live in affected neighbourhoods are also changing the way they move about to avoid being accosted by prostitutes, although this is much less prevalent than the harassment of females who frequent or live in areas affected by street prostitution. For example, a resident told the Subcommittee that he did not wait for his wife in the car anymore while she was running errands because women had gotten into his car several times to offer sexual services for sale.

For business people, street prostitution often results in lower customer traffic. For fear of being harassed by clients or prostitutes, or after having been accosted, customers will choose not to enter the stores any more or will shop elsewhere, in quieter areas.

It has become more difficult for certain business people who are affected by street prostitution to hire and retain staff because of the location of their business. Many have to spend time and money to clean up their surroundings, for instance, by picking up used needles and condoms.102

Based on the testimony we gathered, the most frightening aspect of street prostitution is the violence associated with the drug trade. According to several witnesses who appeared before the Subcommittee, turf wars between members of organized crime or street gangs, fights between prostitutes and drug dealers, or strange and aggressive behaviour exhibited by drug addicts all fuel the fear and insecurity of residents, business people and passers-by. Here is what some witnesses said on this subject:

For many residents the most frightening aspect of street prostitution is the accompanying drug-related activities. As my neighbours glance out their window and see a drug transaction taking place, they worry that the drug dealers will witness them trying to record a licence number and retaliate with violence.103

Prostitution and drugs are inextricably linked. The confluence of johns, prostitutes, and drug dealers renders some of our streets unsafe. Living next door to a drug house means 24 hours a day of screaming and fights on the sidewalk. I would invite all of you to come with me for a drive one night to follow the johns who slow to a crawl whenever they see a woman of any age walking down the street. It's terrifying, and many women in our community don't venture out after dark.104

The sex trade is directly linked to drugs, street gangs, theft, and other illegal activities. The violence it brings is a threat to our local residents and our business owners. We are a secondary victim of crime. Our businesses start their day with the chores of cleaning up the storefronts or back alleys or sidewalks of used condoms, drug paraphernalia, and empty bottles from the activities of the night before.105

These comments help explain the fear and insecurity felt by many residents having to deal with street prostitution and the fact that a number of them are afraid of turning to the police, as is reflected in the brief presented by the Association des résidants et résidantes des Faubourgs de Montréal:

The residents who are victims of street prostitution (apart from the prostitutes themselves) are reluctant to make complaints, because they are afraid of reprisals from the people involved in prostitution, who are known to be violent.106

2. Victims or Criminals?

Most witnesses appearing before the Subcommittee felt that street level prostitutes are victims much more than they are criminals. Better support must be provided for prostitutes, including addiction treatment programs and emergency shelters. Several residents told the Subcommittee that measures to treat drug dependency would probably have the greatest impact in reducing street prostitution.

3. The Various Experiences of Communities in Canada and the Different Approaches Adopted by Communities to Counter the Negative Effects of Street Prostitution

Street prostitution does not affect all Canadian communities the same way. In the course of our study, we learned that the experience of each community often depends on the incidence of the problem,107 where street prostitution occurs,108 and the relationship between the various actors involved: those selling sexual services, residents, business people, community groups and the police.

In the course of its hearings, the Subcommittee also noted that different communities adopted different approaches to try to control the harm caused by prostitution.109 The Subcommittee learned that some communities rely on the criminal justice system to a great degree or adopt a punitive approach to control street prostitution on their territory (for instance, through client identification campaigns or by criminalizing persons selling sexual services), whereas other communities prefer a collaborative approach with prostitutes’ advocacy groups to find alternative solutions to protect both prostitutes and the community in general.

Some communities see street prostitution more as a complex social and public health issue.  A number of residents and business people in these communities were especially concerned about those practising prostitution for survival. Patricia Barnes, the Executive Director of a Vancouver business association, stated the following:

Both our businesses and residents are dismayed not only by the impact of the survival sex trade on their community and businesses, but also by the impact on the women, and the danger in which they are being placed by our society. Pushing sex work into a light industrial area increases the danger for these women, as their city turns a blind eye to their plight. 110

Finally, it is interesting to note that all the witnesses we heard recognized the need for solutions to the problems associated with street prostitution, beyond the criminalization of those selling sexual services.

90 It should be noted that few residents and business owners mentioned other types of prostitution that are out of public view.
91 Madeline Boscoe, Women’s Health Clinic, appearing before the Subcommittee on 1 April 2005. It should be noted that Michèle Roy, Spokesperson for the Regroupement québécois des Centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel, shared a similar view in her testimony before the Committee on 7 February 2005: “People making a living from prostitution are not the only ones concerned or affected by prostitution. As we have already stated, rape has an effect not only on the women who fall victim to it, but on all women, if only because of the fear many women feel, a fear that prevents them from going where they want or doing what they want, because they're afraid of placing themselves in situations where rape can occur. Similarly, prostitution affects all women, creates social models with respect to sexuality and relationships between people.”
92 Gwendolyn Landolt, Vice President, Real Women of Canada, testimony before the Subcommittee, 14 February 2005.
93 Jacqueline Lynn, researcher, testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.
94 Janet Epp Buckingham, Director, Law and Public Policy, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 February 2005.
95 Peter Veenendall, Research Coordinator, Reformed Perspective Foundation, testimony before the Subcommittee, 1 April 2005.
96 Yolande Geadah, independent author and researcher, testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.
97 Valérie Boucher, testimony before the Subcommittee, 7 February 2005.
98 Cristina Basualdo, Vice President, Alberta Avenue Neighbourhood Patrol, testimony before the Subcommittee, 31 March 2005.
99 See also the testimony of Dennis St. Aubin, Member of the Organizing Committee, Dickens Community Group, testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.
100Agnès Connat, Member of the Association des résidants et résidantes des Faubourgs de Montréal, testimony before the Subcommittee, 16 March 2005.
101Association des résidants et résidantes des faubourgs de Montréal, brief tabled with the Subcommittee on 16 March 2005.
102See also the testimony of Peter Rausch, Executive Director, Alberta Avenue Business Association on 31 March 2005.
103Shannon Ross Watson, testimony before the Subcommittee, 31 March 2005.
104Jeff Leiper, President of the Hintonburg Community Association Inc., Ottawa, testimony before the Subcommittee, 23 March 2005.
105Peter Rausch, Executive Director, Alberta Avenue Business Association, testimony before the Subcommittee, 31 March 2005.
106Brief tabled with the Subcommittee on 16 March 2005.
107Some communities are obviously more affected by street prostitution than others for the simple reason that there are a greater number of persons selling sexual services on their streets.
108Problems vary depending on whether street prostitution takes place in industrial, commercial or residential areas.
109Although regional authorities do not have jurisdiction over criminal matters under subsection 91(27) of the Constitution Act, 1867, the provinces control its application. Further, in a provincial context, municipalities can control the different types of prostitution through municipal by-laws or other measures, such as street by-laws, business permits, prostitution and zoning by-laws. As a result, there is great variety in the way each municipality approaches the issue; this aspect is addressed in the next chapter.
110Patricia Barnes, Executive Director, Hastings North Business Improvement Association, testimony before the Subcommittee, 30 March 2005.