Print media from 2005


Sex workers slam Niagara police for indifference

CTV.ca

Mon. Jan. 30 2006

TORONTO — An investigation into the suspicious deaths of five women living "high-risk lifestyles" in the Niagara region is taking too long because of police indifference towards those who work in the sex industry, an advocacy group says.

The Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), which carries a so-called "bad client list" on its website, said Monday it will post a warning about the women - three of whom police have said were involved in drugs and prostitution, while two others worked as exotic dancers.

"We've known about this for a while," said Valerie Scott, SPOC's executive director. "There will definitely be a warning, although everyone down there's already aware of it."

The Niagara Regional Police have established a team of 12 officers to probe any possible links between the death of Cassey Cichocki and the unsolved cases of four other women dating back to 1995 whose bodies were found in the Niagara region.

The body of Cichocki, 22, was discovered last week in a wooded area in Niagara Falls, Ont. She was last seen in the early hours of Dec. 4. Police have said she died as a result of physical trauma to her body.

Scott said police are only acting now because of media interest generated in the case of B.C. pig farmer Robert Pickton, who pleaded not guilty Monday to 27 counts of first-degree murder in the disappearance of sex-trade workers from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

"I think if Vancouver had not have happened, then Niagara police would just let this continue," Scott said.

"I don't think it's because they're incapable. I think they're just not interested."

Similar accusations have been levelled against police in Vancouver and also in Edmonton, where 12 women who worked in the sex trade have been found dead in rural areas around the city over the past 16 years.

Niagara police Const. Sal Basilone dismissed suggestions that the deaths in the region have been treated any differently than any other homicide investigation.

"I don't believe that is the case in any way, shape or form," Basilone said. "We have an obligation to investigate these matters as thoroughly as possible."

Investigators have not yet adopted a theory that a serial killer is operating in the Niagara region and targeting those involved in the sex industry, Basilone said.

Police have not released the causes of death of the other victims: Dawn Stewart, 32; Nadine Gurczenski, 27; Diane Dimitri, 28; and Margaret Jugaru, 26.

Stewart was 32 and pregnant when she vanished from her home in September 1995. Her skeletal remains, and those of a fetus, were discovered 10 years ago in a wooded area in Pelham, Ont., 25 kilometres west of Niagara Falls.

Gurczenski's body was discovered in May 1999 in a ditch in the nearby town of Vineland; Dimitri's remains were found in a ditch in rural Welland, just south of Pelham, in August 2003.

Jugaru's body was found in school parking lot in July 2004.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, asked about the case Monday, said he didn't have details about the concerns raised by SPOC.

"I would urge the police and investigators to do whatever they can to help us better understand what has happened," McGuinty said.

Scott said a serious discussion about legitimizing the practice of prostitution needs to take place in Canada. Prostitution itself is not illegal, although soliciting or communicating for the purposes of prostitution is against the law.

"That sends a powerful message to society that we're a nuisance and disposable and you can do what you want with us," Scott said.

Since communicating for the purposes of prostitution became illegal 20 years ago, more than 600 sex workers have gone missing or been murdered across Canada, she added.


March 24th 2005

Eye Weekly Letters

NO GOVERNMENT PIMPS

Re: "Responsible Hooking," Editorial, Mar. 10. Your proposal for the legalization of sex work would be beneficial for the glorified pimps (the government and brothel owners) and harmful for sex workers.

The procedures you are touting -- like forced health checks -- have done little to produce a healthy environment where they've been tried elsewhere, but are great for encouraging clients to demand unsafe sex and brothel owners to force sex workers to provide it. And who pays for it in the end when the sex worker's weekly test tells her that she is no longer grade-A disease-free meat? Let's do safer-sex promotion, so all of us will be protected from STIs.

The system we want to see in place (decriminalization), works for all parties involved. Sex workers deserve a system in which they are not being forced to provide unsafe sex or made to work 12- to 16-hour days or forced to give out freebies. Sex workers deserve to bring home more than 25 per cent of their earnings. Decriminalization welcomes reasonable management, but pimps and handlers need not apply.

What we want is not to "have our cake and eat it too." What we are demanding is basic human and workers' rights. Oh, and we deserve it.

LAUREL RONAN, SEX PROFESSIONALS OF CANADA

March 10, 2005

PAUL CARLUCCI -- Eye Magazine

Call them sex entrepreneurs

OLD CITY HALL -- In a perfect world, it would be like a sauna out here. But March is still young, and Old Man Winter can't get his mercury up. A pity, considering the dozen dishy men and women from the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) gathered in front of Old City Hall to mark International Sex Workers' Rights Day. They're nearly lost in the folds of their winter regalia, the titillation they promised lost to the season.

They crunch around in the snow, waving signs and hollering slogans. Most passersby stop to pick up flyers, a few suits and a befuddled trio of peach-fuzzed boys among the few who turn away.

The protesters aren't here to promote the complete legalization of prostitution. They prefer decriminalization, a legislative nuance they say delivers total control to the workers. (Think Karl Marx with a riding crop, and then see our editorial on page 6.)

"Legalization treats sex work like a vice," says Laurel Ronan, a fetish sex worker and SPOC spokesperson. "In a legalized system, like in Amsterdam, sex workers have to go to the police station and get photographed and fingerprinted. Then they have to go to a registered brothel, which means they have to fuck the management for free to see if they're good enough."

Ronan says that such systems -- Nevada has similar laws -- make sex workers submit to intrusive police profiling. Even then, pros can't work independently; they have to sign on with a legalized brothel and submit to a boss' desires. Auditions and unsafe or coercive sex are prominent features of those industries, SPOC says.

SPOC also maintains that most brothels scalp 50 per cent off a worker's earnings and that the government swoops in for another 25 per cent, a sort of sin tax. "So the woman who's done the actual work is lucky to take home 25 per cent," says SPOC's Valerie Scott. "We reject [legalization] outright. You end up with a legal red-light district and an illegal one and it solves nothing."

A decriminalized system, like the one in New South Wales, Australia, allows sex workers to function as normal entrepreneurs, SPOC says. They can work independently or open their own brothels, with each situation subject to normal tax laws. Their earnings are legitimate and can be spent accordingly. Like other entrepreneurs, they don't have to go to the police for fingerprinting and photographing.

SPOC, which has about 24 members on any given day, plans to take its message to a parliamentary committee on sex work coming through Toronto on March 15. Their supporters are encouraged to go to www.spoc.ca to sign the petition they'll be bringing with them.

Fri, March 4, 2005

Bawdy is their temple

By MIKE STROBEL -- For the Toronto Sun

Bay and Queen. Windchill, oh, minus 15. Colder than a hooker's heart?

Whoever coined that phrase is nowhere in sight.

A bitter gale bellows up the steps to Old City Hall.

Many a john has trudged those stairs, pondering what to tell his wife after he sees the judge.

Not yesterday, though. Those cops in the van are just keeping an eye on the prostitutes' demo.

One cop per three marchers, including brave Amy in fishnet.

Even the Naked Protester is bundled up. Abuzar Chaudhary, 28, shows up at various demos, clad in nothing, or next to it.

Not this day. Three layers, a scarf and a tuque.

I lend my gloves to Wendy Babcock, 25.

Wendy is a wisecracking cutie in long, dark hair and schoolmarm glasses. She tells me she tried the dominatrix game until some guy asked her to feed him dog food.

The street got her at 15. She has been an escort since. But she's on sabbatical, still shocked by the murder of friend and colleague Liem Pham 17 months ago.

Over her shoulder, the Cenotaph looms. To Our Glorious Dead, it says.

Val Scott, leader of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), works the bullhorn.

This rally is to mark International Sex Workers' Rights Day. How March 3 won that honour is a bit hazy.

There is also an International Sex Worker Day, in December. Hallmark must be confused.

Maybe every day should be Sex Worker Day.

Val has preached this for 20 years. SPOC wants prostitution decriminalized as it is in parts of Australia. Business licence, nothing more. Pimps and other leeches needed no longer.

SPOC does not want the biz "legalized," controlled, as it is in Amsterdam, where the winners are brothel owners and the feds.

'God does not want this'

The demo pamphlets explain this. SPOC hands them out at streetcar doors and to people scurrying by, heads down.

Tough crowd.

"God does not want this," Diana Findley, 52, tells me.

"With AIDS and syphilis spreading like wildfire?

"Our bodies are meant to be the Temple of the Holy Ghost."

The hookers have better luck with three passing plumbers.

"It's the oldest profession," says Jeff Wilson, 34. "You got hot dog vendors on every corner, what's the difference."

Ah, hot dog vendors. The second oldest profession.

I count only seven real hookers. But hookers always draw a crowd.

Chanelle Gallant, 30, is here in support. She runs Good For Her, a sex shop on Harbord St.

"Sex workers are treated like dirt," says Chanelle. "It's the civil rights issue of our time."

Placards bob about. "Pagans and Whores Unite," says one. I forget to ask what it means.

But Wendy has heard many lies. Seen many sins.

"Lawyers are the worst," she says. One tipped her a twoonie, then demanded it back because he needed subway fare.

Funny thing, Wendy's beau is bound for law school, though when she met him he was just an exhibitionist.

But it is wrong to call them criminals.


Toronto turning tricks

Thu, March 3, 2005
By MIKE STROBEL -- For the Toronto Sun


"In the morning!?" says Valerie Scott. (What was I thinking?)

"You expect a hooker to meet you IN THE MORNING?!"

So we meet in the afternoon, at her haunt, the cool Jet Fuel Cafe, up Parliament St.

The walls are red, the lattes hot and sexy. James Brown is in the air.

"One-two, one-two-three, uh!

Hot pants, hey hot pants, uh! smokin' "

Val Scott, Laurel Ronan and a co-worker named Amy finish their cigarettes and drift to a table.

They are leaders of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC). Today at 1 p.m., by Old City Hall, SPOC members in saucy attire will mark International Sex Workers' Rights Day.

It is too late to send a card.

If you are in the area, though, take a look at their pamphlet.

It explains how they want prostitution "decriminalized," requiring only a business licence.

As opposed to "legalized," which makes hookers a sort of controlled substance. Legal, but only at designated brothels, with auditions, shift work and heavy fees.

"Who in their right mind works under those conditions?" Val says. "In Amsterdam, it's women from poor parts of eastern Europe."

Val is rail-thin, except in all the right places, and has a 29-year-old son. She is coy about her own age, but in 1988 she too was 29.

She still turns a trick or two with longtime regulars. This is fine with the stockbroker to whom she is engaged.

Eight years ago, he was her chemistry tutor. Oh, yes he was.

"She's a revolutionary," Laurel Ronan says of Val. "We need her. She gives a rip."

Laurel is built like a dominatrix. She is as quick with a quip as she is with a whip.

"I'll spank you if you let me have that camera," she says to our Mark O'Neill.

Mark knocks over a latte.

Laurel, 27, works in a fetish cooperative with other ladies of leather in a downtown studio.

Aren't you afraid your parents will read this?

"I have to tell them sooner or later. I'm not ashamed of what I do."

Val has fought for a free sex trade since Laurel was knee-high to a nipple clamp.

Not much has changed. You can buy sex legally, strictly speaking. But bawdy house and solicitation laws drive hookers into dark and dangerous places.

"If you make us work in the gutter, that's where we'll be," Val says. "We've made no progress legally, so we're trying to educate the public."

Hence, today's demo.

SPOC even has a guide to being a good john.

"Pleeease brush your teeth."

Plus, cheeky guesses at what our leaders are like in bed.

"Dalton McGuinty: 'I'll make it up to you, I promise. You know I'm a good man. Where's dinner?' "

There's a serious side, too, of course. The sex trade is a good way to get beaten up, or worse.

SPOC says lifting the maze of laws will make pimps and other hoodlums go away. Who will need them?

Prostitution will never go away. It is all around.

"People need to get their jollies," Laurel says.

"There's a brothel on practically every block in the city," Val says. "They're just very discreet.

"All those condos on the lakeshore? One big brothel."

Well, that's a stretch.

So is SPOC's dream of hookers free to patrol (they call it advertising) any commercial street in Toronto.

The God-fearing merchants of Yorkville will choke on their espresso when they read that.

"If we offend, get over it," Val says.

Earning a degree

But the hookers have a point. The murder and mayhem that came with Prohibition must have taught us something.

If we call it a crime, guess who shows up? Criminals.

Amy, 26, knows this. She turns tricks to pay for sociology courses at Ryerson.

Those morning classes are a real crime.


April 21st/05

“I wanted to be a saloon girl” - by Todd Klinck for fab magazine

fab’s Trade columnist sits down with Valerie Scott, the woman leading the fight to decriminalize the sex trade. This prostitutes’ rights activist started her career in a gay bathhouse and found early inspiration watching westerns

Prostitutes’ rights activist Valerie Scott claims to have opened the first massage parlour in a gay bathhouse in Halifax when she was “not quite old enough legally” but had ID that said she was. “I went to this place, and it was just beautiful, called the Apollo Sauna Bath on Barrington Street (it’s still open) and I didn’t know anything [about it being a gay bathhouse],” says Scott, a very petite woman with long, curly hair.

“I spoke with the owner and said I was from Toronto and [that] I used to work in a massage parlour called Relaxation Plus and would he be interested in hiring a masseuse,” continues Scott, who is wearing jeans and a sweater. “I hadn’t been to Toronto in my life. And he was [interested]. So he built me a little room, with a table and everything, and I had a nice little sign, very tastefully painted, in the front window that just said ‘Masseuse.’ And I did some pretty good business. Well, I didn’t know the reason he hired me [was that] it was a gay place. And they were getting heat from the cops. So he figured if he had a girl in there, then maybe the cops wouldn’t think it was so gay.” She laughs, “And it worked!” The fact that a lot of bisexual men frequented the sauna kept Scott in business for a year before she moved on to other forms of sex work.

Decades later, Scott is one of the most visible advocates for the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada. In the ’80s, she was involved with the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes, renamed Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) in 2000 (www.sexprofessionalsofcanada.com). SPOC wasn’t very active until last August, but since then, Scott has been its most public face.

She’s not the stereotypical angry activist. She speaks slowly and methodically, but without hesitation. She lives in an unassuming apartment near the heart of the drug-infested intersection of Dundas and Sherbourne with her male partner of eight years and her massive German shepherd, Brodie. “I knew [I wanted to be a prostitute] when I was about four and a half,” she tells me, while her parrot Dorian repeatedly calls out the dog’s name. “I’d watch TV … they’d show old western movies, and I thought the part about the cowboys running around killing each other was boring, but every now and again, they showed these saloon girls… Oh, I wanted to be a saloon girl. They lived in the centre of town, they were beautifully dressed, they had their own money and no cowboy could pull the wool over their eyes.” When Scott later became a stripper, her first “professional” costume was that of a saloon girl.

Scott was confidently aware, even in high school, that she wanted to be a prostitute. Though she doesn’t disclose her age, she admits she was four years old sometime in the ’60s, and has a 29-year-old son. (I promise to describe her only as “mature”). When I was in high school, I had sex-worker activists like Annie Sprinkle to look to for inspiration. I ask Scott if she had any similar reference points, and she laughs, saying, “It was all in my mind. I thought it would be a great job.” While she didn’t tell her parents right away, they know about it now, and are supportive. “My father always says, ‘Well, whatever you do, try and be the best.’” Her mother is concerned about her safety, “because she doesn’t want me on the news with my head bashed in, dead,” but she still accepts that her daughter has chosen to be a sex worker.

SPOC’s goal is simple: the decriminalization of prostitution. Its most recent activities are related to a parliamentary subcommittee that’s asking Canadians what they think of prostitution laws. The subcommittee was formed in response to a motion by lesbian NDP MP Libby Davies, which followed the revelation that dozens of sex workers had been murdered in Davies’ downtown Vancouver riding. The subcommittee is holding hearings across the country, listening to the opinions of academics, law enforcement officers, social workers, people from organizations like SPOC and the general public. Scott recently addressed the subcommittee, which will prepare a report and submit it to the Justice Minister. In theory, the Department of Justice could approve the recommendations and propose changes to the law that would be voted on in parliament. Scott sees the whole thing as a charade: “This is a response to all the murders [of prostitutes] in Vancouver and elsewhere … in order [for the feds] to show the public that they are doing something.” Scott goes on to tell me that she’s spoken at many of these forums and public inquiries over the years, and when anything has come out of them, it’s been bad for sex workers.

In 1985, the Mulroney government added the “communicating” law to the already confusing and contradictory section of the Criminal Code dealing with prostitution. Today, prostitution laws basically boil down to this: it’s legal to be a prostitute. But it’s illegal to communicate in public for the purposes of prostitution. And if you sell sex in your apartment, you can be convicted of “keeping a common bawdy house.” The definition of a bawdy house is so vague (it’s a place where “indecent acts” occur) that owners of gay bathhouses have been charged with keeping a bawdy house when there were no prostitutes present. (There is no legal definition of “indecent acts,” so law enforcement officers can make a call based on their gut feeling.)

My appreciation for the concept of decriminalization came out of my first meeting with Scott, when we appeared together a couple of years ago on Brad Fraser’s TV show Jawbreaker. Like most liberal-minded people, and as a working prostitute, I thought that prostitution should be “legal.” But when Scott briefly explained the difference between the decriminalization and legalization of prostitution, I understood immediately why decriminalization is the only way to go. Listen and learn.

“Decriminalization sees prostitution as a legitimate and necessary business, whereas legalization sees prostitution as a vice that needs to be contained and controlled.” Scott explains to me that in Germany, Amsterdam, Nevada and the Australian state of Victoria, legalization has created a messy system of state-mandated pimping and bad brothel owners. The legal brothels charge 50% commission off the top, and then 25% goes towards taxes, leaving the worker with 25% if she’s lucky. “And there’s fines for every little thing – if you’re late for a ‘lineup,’ it’s a $100 fine. If it’s a 30-minute date and you’re in the room for 32 minutes, it’s usually a $10 fine. You ask yourself, ‘Who in their right mind would work under those conditions?’” Apparently, according to Scott, it’s impoverished Eastern European women in Amsterdam and Thai women in Australia. Scott tells me, “The women who have citizenship in those countries all work illegally and wouldn’t be caught dead in a legal brothel.” So legalization hasn’t eliminated illegal prostitution anyway.

The transcripts from the subcommittee hearings have been published online, and I’ve read most of them. Many of the presenters feel that the laws should not change. There is a lot of talk from social worker types of increased funding for “exit strategies” for those involved in the sex trade. Many of the speakers look at all prostitutes as exploited victims. Some feel prostitution should be decriminalized, but then regulated in various ways (which basically amounts to legalization). I don’t agree with any form of regulation when it comes to prostitution. I don’t understand why prostitution isn’t treated like any other service.

Computer consultants are allowed to see clients without regulation. They bill people for more than $100/hour, and are required to report their income and pay tax on it. Prostitution should be the same.

A common argument for regulating prostitution and treating it differently than other industries is the idea that prostitutes should be forced to undergo health tests. It baffles me that, even though we know you can infect someone with a sexually transmitted disease before it shows up in your own health records, people in support of legalization always bring up the need for strict health regulations. Scott tells me how it works in Germany: “Officially it’s condoms-only, but the girls aren’t permitted to use them if the client doesn’t want it. Typically the tests are done on a Thursday afternoon, so you get your little grade ‘A’ disease-free meat certificate, put it on the wall (where you must show it) and clients come in on Thursday nights, which are busy, look at your certificate, and say, ‘Great, I’m not using a condom.’” And then the girls spread whatever diseases they caught to the rest of the clients. “The reason we [prostitutes] were able to get guys to use condoms is that they were afraid we were going to give them something, not that they cared if they were going to give us something. And when that bargaining chip is taken away, we’re lost.”

I ask Scott if decriminalization has been successfully implemented anywhere, and she tells me that it’s been in effect in New South Wales, Australia, since the early ’80s. “I worked in a brothel [in Sydney] for a couple weeks, and it was entirely different, a whole new attitude. Women don’t need a licence. Brothel owners don’t need a special brothel licence.” She tells me that there are many types of brothels in Sydney, including boy brothels. “I worked in a not-for-profit, collectively owned brothel,” says Scott. This didn’t mean that the prices were low, but it meant the books were open and the women could see how much was being spent on advertising, rent, etc. Scott says everyone pitched in on the cleaning and the brothel commission was only 30%. There are apparently very few “bad dates” or murders in Sydney, and very few bad brothel owners because, notes Scott, “they don’t last long.” I ask Scott if she felt that Sydney society in general was more accepting of prostitution. She says yes, and has her own historical theory about it: “The first white women in Australia were prostitutes, so for a great majority of the population, their great-great-grandmom was a whore. And maybe, maybe they’re a little more used to it. I don’t know.”

Back in Toronto, the reality for prostitutes is not as good. While I knew there were regular street “sweeps” of prostitutes, I had never heard of independent escorts being busted, and wondered if maybe prostitution was already becoming unofficially decriminalized, like weed. SPOC keeps very up to date on what’s going on in the scene, so I ask Scott if independent escorts are free from the cops. After a long pause, she pops my idealistic bubble, saying, “Um… I’d love to say yes, but I can’t.” She tells me that escorts are all “sitting ducks,” depending on how busy a given police division is. She says it’s true that cops aren’t putting a lot of resources towards this, but there’s always the possibility of complaints, and that leaves prostitutes vulnerable to arrest. Most of the arrests are of street prostitutes, who after the first or second offence usually receive a jail sentence of six weeks to two months – notes Scott, “just enough time for them to lose their apartments, lose all their furniture. If they have children, they lose their children … provincial jails are full of prostitutes.”

When are people going to realize that prostitution is not immoral? Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno wrote an impressive pro-prostitute column recently, and said, “Face it. Prostitution will never be eradicated. Nor should it be, for a host of obvious reasons, the most central of which is the human desire for sex… There’s nothing inherently immoral about that.” While it is true that many people involved in prostitution, perhaps even the majority, are not happy in the trade, the stigma surrounding it cannot be helpful. Drug addiction, particularly crack, is a huge influence on the street scene. But arresting drug addicts for selling $20 blow jobs is not going to solve the “problem” of street prostitution.
SPOC’s work is vital, because it’s still necessary to educate people about the importance of decriminalization, and it’s necessary for prostitutes to organize and support each other.

But day-to-day, Valerie Scott is a realist. I’m used to activists who yell a lot, who rally people together with bullhorns. It becomes clear to me that Scott takes a quiet, confident approach to the issue because she doesn’t believe change will come anytime soon. When you talk to her about Sydney, you see a passion light up on her face. It’s because she’s witnessed a system that proves decriminalization works. But it’s probably just too complicated for Canadians to deal with the moral issues surrounding sex work. Society is too fucked up about sex, and there are no federal politicians with the intelligence, courage and vision to move this issue forward, which is what Scott tells me is needed before any real change can happen.

She speaks wistfully of the late Pierre Trudeau and her belief that he was going to, at least partially, decriminalize prostitution in the early ’80s. “Trudeau understood the difference [between legalization and decriminalization]. He decriminalized gay and lesbian sex when he was justice minister in the Pearson government.” She laments the “fateful walk in the snow” when Trudeau decided to retire, and points out that all we’ve had since then was Mulroney, whose government introduced the current communicating law. She says, “The NDP sees prostitutes as victims, the Conservatives see us as villains and the Liberals try and ignore us as much as possible. And so when a whole whack of us show up dead, then they have to have a little travelling road show.”

• Todd Klinck is fab’s Trade columnist.


Prostitutes identify `bad dates' on website

Site tracks violent clients
In some cases, pictures posted

Aug. 4, 2005

DEBRA BLACK STAFF REPORTER

Valerie Scott of the Sex Professionals of Canada in her home office. Scott helps run the organization’s website, which details incidents of abuse against sex professionals.

Wendy Babcock became a prostitute when she was 15 years old. She left the business about two years ago after her best friend met with a client — and was found strangled in a bathtub the next morning. Since then, Babcock, now 26, has been working Toronto's streets and cyberspace, trying to help other sex professionals avoid a similar fate by providing information on violent clients, or "bad dates." She and long-time lobbyist and sex worker Valerie Scott started the Sex Professionals of Canada website two years ago. Scott, too, had lost friends and colleagues on the street at the hands of violent dates. "That was part of the motivation to develop a bad date list online," said Scott. "It gets to me somehow when people I know are dead — murdered." What worried Scott and Babcock were the cases of sex workers in Vancouver and Edmonton who simply disappeared, only to be found murdered years later. Neither wanted women here to end up that way. So they launched the website for Sex Professionals of Canada. Their goal: to save lives and empower the city's sex workers. And now the website has become a must-read for Toronto's sex workers, providing information on bad dates as well as lobbying efforts to decriminalize prostitution. But it is the bad date list that draws many — both the pros and the curious. The website graphically lists the names, descriptions and possible whereabouts of violent clients. In some cases, pictures are posted with names. In other cases there are no names, just descriptions, perhaps a licence plate number or a sexual proclivity. "It has potential to save lives and help women from being beaten up and raped," said Scott. And she's not the only one who thinks that.

The Toronto Police Sex Crimes Unit, which runs its own bad-date tip phone line, has welcomed the site. Officers have used the site to ask for information on an assault or for gathering intelligence about an attacker. What's more, the police believe it provides some protection for the sex workers who are without a doubt constantly in danger. "There are very few safety issues in place for sex workers in our society," said Det. Wendy Leaver with the sex crimes unit. "I think the site, if it's used, is good," said Leaver, who conservatively estimates that a typical sex worker is assaulted at least once a week. "People should be able to do their job without being sexually assaulted. ... Only if sex workers have this information are they safe." That's why posting the information is so important, said Babcock. And it doesn't just benefit sex workers, but also helps all women in Toronto. "Often, these guys end up attacking other women," said Babcock. "Bad dates are serial attackers. It's good to know what's out there and of course to let the whole sex worker community know about it." "If someone is raping, murdering, assaulting, robbing or threatening someone, the sex workers have a right to know," said Laurel Ronan, a Toronto sex worker and member of Sex Professionals of Canada. Ronan is a strong advocate of the bad date list. "I have no problem publishing a bad date's name or personal information if he can harm one of us. People need to know." For her, being a sex worker is "not a job or a hobby, it's an act of political resistance." But it is also a life, she stressed, that requires a safety net.

There are other bad date lists on other sites on the web, the pair acknowledged. But many of them are associated with private escort services and require a password to gain access to the information. Babcock and Scott's site is free. The pair count on women on the street to provide accounts of any bad experiences they've had, including descriptions or names of bad dates. In turn, other sex workers can protect themselves should these men turn up at their door or pull up in a car. "The site works," said Scott. "It's all-volunteer. I have had phone calls from women who said they got calls from a guy and they checked the site and he was there and they didn't go. We've also had reports where a guy is up on the site and women will call in and say they've seen him too." But the site is not without legal problems. Last March, a man threatened to sue Scott for libel for posting his name on the website. But he withdrew the lawsuit after being told two prostitutes were prepared to testify against him, said Scott. "We truly do believe this is the right thing to do," said Scott. "I don't want to invade anyone's privacy. And we would never just publish someone's name for being a date. But I figure you forfeit your privacy when you're violent." Leaver believes the site offers some much-needed protection for sex workers. "Many women in this field don't come to police," she said. "Where are they going to go? The bottom line is, to be a sex worker is not a criminal offence ... but we afford very little protection to them. "That's what Val does. She has set up a mechanism for these girls. They can keep it in the back of their minds. It's the only mechanism of safety they have." Leaver and her fellow officers at the sex crimes unit hope this will change one day and sex workers will turn more regularly to the police to report assaults and bad date information. "It doesn't matter if they're a sex worker — no means no," she said.


Amid the pain, a search for solutions

Jana G. Pruden, Leader-Post

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Part 6:

SELLING SEX ON THE STREET

For more than a decade, William Davison has led efforts to help those involved in all sides of the sex trade-- devoting himself to helping johns, street workers and their families deal with the impact of prostitution. Today, we look at the personal motivations behind Davison's important work, and look at what, if anything, can be done.

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William Davison has lived in two worlds.

A treaty Indian, Davison spent his childhood bouncing between residential schools and foster homes, surrounded by the harsh realities of drugs, poverty, violence and prostitution. Unlike many, he somehow escaped the cycle, living comfortably in mainstream society for years before being drawn back to the street.

This time, it was to help.

As the child of a prostitute and a john, the story of Davison's work is also the story of his life.

"I do this because I'm a trick baby and I wanted to know who my father was and what he was like," he says, with his usual candor. "And now I know."

Backed and funded by the Indian Metis Christian Fellowship, Davison helped pioneer the city's john school when there were only a handful of similar programs in North America, and spearheaded Hope School, which provides educational and healing opportunities for street workers.

He's currently involved in the creation of a new program for women facing first-time soliciting charges, and spends his days talking to prostitutes and johns about how they got into the sex trade and, hopefully, how they can get out of it.

"The sex trade is a symptom of underlying causes, root causes, and from a counselling perspective, we try and address those," Davison says.

B.C. criminology professor John Lowman agrees, saying it's time to address the social conditions that breed "survival sex" -- where women engage in prostitution because they have no other choice -- while re-evaluating how the sex trade fits into broader Canadian society.

"Everyone agrees what has to change is prostitution law," says Lowman, who has been studying the issue for three decades.

Selling sex is only illegal in Canada if negotiations are done in public, violating soliciting laws. It's also illegal to persuade someone else to work as a prostitute (pimping) or to live off the proceeds of prostitution. Bawdy house laws can be used to clamp down on places where sex is sold regularly.

Valerie Scott, executive director Sex Professionals of Canada, a Toronto-based advocacy group, says current laws are dangerous because they marginalize sex workers, treating them as second-class citizens.

"The law tells your average Canadian that we're criminals, that we're disposable women and you can do what you want," says Scott, who has been a sex worker for more than 20 years. "That's the message that law sends, so when you get some unstable guy, that's a pretty powerful message in his head."

Lowman says there are a few options available, including prohibition, where prostitution is outlawed completely; decriminalization, where it's treated like any other business; or legalization, where "you turn the state into a pimp."

"And quite frankly, the state is a much, much meaner pimp in a lot of ways because it's got police forces with guns and laws and legislation," he adds.

Legalizing may seem like a liberal solution, but Scott warns it would actually be far worse than the current system. She says legalized prostitution-- in which sex workers are licensed and regulated like in Amsterdam-- breeds bribery and corruption, takes away a worker's right to refuse a sexual encounter, and, ironically, can endanger sex workers' lives through mandatory testing for sexually transmitted diseases.

"The clients come in and see your little Grade A disease-free meat card on the wall, where you must post it, and they say, 'Great, I'm not using a condom'," Scott says. "And when you come up with some kind of (sexually transmitted disease) your licence is revoked and they just bring in a fresh girl ... It's great for the men, but it hasn't worked out very well for the women at all."

Instead, Scott's organization is pushing for decriminalization, like in parts of Australia and New Zealand, which removes prostitution-related offences from the law and treats the sex industry like any other business.

She says a decriminalized system makes sex workers safer because they can work together, and argues it doesn't promote or increase prostitution as some believe.

"Everyone thinks there's going to be a brothel next door with hundreds of naked women hanging out the windows," she says. "That's not the case."

Others disagree, of course, arguing legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution promotes the sex trade and leads to increases in organized crime, sexually transmitted diseases and human trafficking.

But while the answers certainly aren't easy, it's clear something needs to be done.

Currently, it's common for street workers to be robbed, raped or assaulted, and more than 300 prostitutes have been murdered in Canada in the past 25 years. Their attackers and killers are rarely brought to justice.

Lowman calls it a social tragedy.

"We need to do something to stop them from getting killed," Lowman says. "I think the murder of 300 women is an issue that every single Canadian citizen should be alarmed about and want to do something about. Plain and simple."

Scott agrees.

"Prostitutes don't come from Mars on a shuttle every night and leave at sunrise," she says. "We're part of the community. We're people too."

The federal government is currently looking at the issues around prostitution law, and the province of Alberta is lobbying for the creation of a national DNA databank for johns, which could help police catch prostitute killers.

For now, Davison says it's important to minimize the damage of the sex trade, to help break dangerous cycles and offer the possibility of a better life to those trapped on the streets.

"The work we do brings hope that there will be change, that it can be different," he says. "Hope is out there and you just look, it grows. It's exponential."


November 16, 2005

Dangers of the Street

Pulse 24

Wendy Babcock doesn’t work the streets for the Homicide Squad -- she’s a sex trade worker -- but when she hears the disturbing particulars regarding an unidentified woman’s dismembered body being scattered throughout the city, she seems to piece things together like a veteran detective.

Babcock believes the victim could be a sex trade worker victimized at the hands of a roaming serial killer.

“Well, I pretty much assumed it was a sex worker in the neighbourhood because of the amount of days that have gone by and the fact that nobody has claimed the body yet,” she reasons.

Her peers in the dangerous trade have a similar hunch.

“Whenever anything like this happens there's definitely a fear,” she admits. “There's no description of this guy so nobody knows if they're going to see him again or not.”

The woman's torso was found Saturday in a dead end lane. Her leg was found Friday at a waste transfer station.

Police haven’t determined her I.D., or whether she was indeed a sex trade worker. They're doing tests to determine if in fact she was murdered or died another way and was then dismembered.

In the meantime, Wendy and other sex trade workers fear for the worst.

“I wouldn't be surprised if we're going to be going through what Edmonton or what B.C. just went through,” she said, referring to the infamous pig farm killings.

“The only time it's ever been taken seriously is when one of us has to pay with our life.”