Print media from 2006
Eye - February 2, 2006
The Foreign Fuck
What are your views about massage parlours in Asia? My boyfriend told me that he had paid for sex while in China at a massage parlour. It bothers me to know of this. I know that often women and young girls are forced into the sex trade in Asia and so I feel that paying for sex in places where we may not know if women are there of their own choice, or even how old they are, is exploitative. STACEY
Translation: dear Sasha, please give me ammunition to fling at my disgusting boyfriend who took advantage of reluctant and cheap sex labour in a foreign country.
Before you hitch up that high horse, Miss Stacey, you may want to look around the house at all the products you buy that were created through low-cost youth labour in third-world countries. Just because you didn't finger-fuck the person who made them does not make you a barometer of moral rectitude.
Like everyone in North America, I've been fed the same steady diet of images of destitute 12-year-old girls and boys being sexually exploited by slobbering first-world pedophiles. I have been suitably enraged by such depictions and yet have done absolutely nothing to stop it all from happening. I have, however, supplemented this information with personal anecdotes from political sex workers, and these stories are monumentally different. "What is true is that sex tourism is alive and well," says prostitution activist Jenn Clamen. "People come to Montreal for the same reason. It is also true that there are cases of coercion in every workplace, and that is why we are working to decriminalize the industry, because these cases can be easily identified."
So yes, every country, including ours, has disinclined sex-trade workers (along with a host of others haplessly employed), but this is not the whole story. You may be surprised to know that there is an organization of prostitutes in India called the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, and one of their objectives is to get Americans to stop sending them money to buy sewing machines. Believe it or not, these people would rather be independent sex workers than labour in filthy, ill-paying factories sewing clothes for Kathie Lee Gifford, and there are 60,000 of them. This same organization publicly criticized the award-winning documentary Born into Brothels. Members of the DMSC were not aware that their children were being filmed, and many found the representation of mothers keen to usher their children into the business sensationalistic.
Clamen says the perception that all Asian sex workers are forced into the trade "is born out of xenophobia and complete ethnocentrism." As the Thai organization Empower collectively writes in an article for the prison issue of the sex-worker magazine ConStellation, "We are seen as empty pages that the anti-prostitution lobbyists and other misled bleeding hearts can write upon. They do not respect us as adult women with full histories, lives, skills, plans, and dreams of our own. They think we are stupid, ignorant and pity us and judge us as powerless. We are not recognized as working women and the family providers who support five to eight other adults. The way we migrant sex workers are perceived and treated as victims of trafficking reflects the attitudes towards our work."
It's the same story everywhere. Anti-prostitution activists refuse to believe that anyone would want to do sex work, and their well-sustained position and tactics often present bigger problems for the workers themselves. From the same article by Empower: "They force us to learn, whether we want to or not, never stopping to consider whether we already have the skills they are so anxious to thrust upon us or not. For example most of us can already sew, weave and cook. In the past the Thai government gave funding to Thai sex workers to start small businesses after we had been re-trained. After 3 to 6 months these businesses failed. The government learned what we already knew: that the economy is flooded with such small businesses." Exit programs in North America present similarly hollow options by way of government-funded, month-long computer courses, offered in exchange for court time. The message is crystal clear: anything is better than being a hooker.
Worse, many women who come to Thailand from other Asian countries are often deported after "rescue and rehabilitation" efforts, sometimes back to countries with military regimes like Burma, countries that don't take at all kindly to their citizens leaving illegally to do sex work. You can read the entire article by Empower online at www.chezstella.org/stella, and here are two other websites for you to better acquaint yourself with the diverse realities of sex work in Asia: www.empowerfoundation.org and www.durbar.org. We are inclined when it comes to prostitution -- in a way that we aren't with any other business -- to railroad those with positive experiences simply because others have so clearly been hurt. I often wonder why we can't turn the same ever-vigilant eye to the business of war.
Who's hot - and who's not
Mon, March 20, 2006
Sex group pokes nose into political bedrooms
By LISA LISLE, TORONTO SUN
Valerie Scott of the Sex Professionals of Canada thinks things may have gotten kinkier at 24 Sussex Dr. (CP file photo)
Sheila Martin might be one lucky lady.
While the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) may not like her husband's politics, Paul Martin's potential in the sack gets top marks.
"As much as most (not all) of us loathe Martin's politics, the general feeling is this guy is one hot (lover)," reads SPOC's assessment of the former prime minister on its website.
With so many serious topics -- bad dates, the decriminalization of prostitution, etc. -- on their meeting agendas, Valerie Scott of SPOC said the ladies wanted something fun to talk about and began musing on the talents of politicians.
"When you've been in this business awhile, you can watch people and know what they're going to be like in bed," Scott told the Sun, noting Martin's confidence gives him the edge as a potential lover.
But since the election, SPOC suspects the master bedroom at 24 Sussex Dr. got a little kinkier.
While Scott doesn't expect much from seemingly straight-laced Prime Minister Stephen Harper in terms of decriminalization of prostitution, she and her colleagues suspect he's not so conservative behind closed doors.
Not exactly an endorsement, the website speculates that Harper is a "dirty boy," who will ask you to do "weird things."
With the upcoming Liberal leadership race, SPOC plans to update its rankings with its assessment of each candidate.
So far Bob Rae is a favourite -- politically and sexually.
"If you watch him move, he's self-assured, he's confident in his body," Scott said.
Belinda Stronach was the only possible replacement for Martin already assessed.
Guessing she'd be "boring," SPOC suspects she'd be like "an amateur dominatrix."
"She figures she deserves it all now and doesn't have to be bothered learning about it and/or working for it," reads the website.
In fact SPOC questioned the ability of many other Liberals to deliver an orgasm.
"I'll make it up to you, I promise," SPOC said of Premier Dalton McGuinty, clearly making a jab at his lack of follow-through.
Yet those on the right didn't fare any better.
Slamming former-premier Mike Harris' policies on women's issues, SPOC suggested he might be a little selfish in bed.
Eye - March 23, 2006
Almost two months ago, I published some facts about sex workers in Asia that conflict with many Westerners' understanding of the situation ("The foreign fuck," Feb. 2). ( Article below, on this page.) I received a lot of mail about this. People were outraged that I would even think about putting a positive face on third-world prostitution. I sent some of the responses along to EMPOWER, a sex-worker rights organization in Thailand. Here are some of their thoughts:
We read Sasha's article and we read some of the responses. Unlike Sasha's article that includes our voices, the responses do not. What is it that makes you so confident to speak on our behalf? Is it that we aren't white? Is it that English or French are not our mother tongues? Is it because our country is not as rich as yours? Is it that we are smaller than you?
Whatever the reason, we never said we needed you to be our heroes, we didn't fight patriarchy to have it replaced by matriarchy, so just stop it. We are not little children in need of your protection. We are adult women that need our rights. Our right to speak for ourselves, our right to work in safe and fair conditions at whatever work we choose, our right to make our own decisions, including the right to make bad decisions just like you and the right to improve the conditions in our industry. You don't have the right to judge our decisions. You have no right to tell us who to be with. You don't like to see us with rich American or European men, so who do you want us to be with? Are we meant to only be with poor Asian men?
Trafficking is a social problem that we sex workers are more than willing to help society solve but we can't solve it alone. How can we help you when you relegate us to the role of victims who are so stupid we don't even know we're victims? Most working women in the world do not have multiple options of what work they will do. We work to put food on the table and to build a good life for our families. Most women are not academics, astronauts and businesswomen -- most are cleaners, factory workers, sewers, nurses, hawkers, cooks, sex workers and waitresses. True, there aren't enough options, but let's change that together. Removing one option does not increase the options, quite the opposite.
As for poverty, can you imagine the number of sex workers there would be if every poor woman in Asia sold sex? For customers and all those concerned about our welfare, support our call for recognition of our rights as workers, like protection under labour laws and social security, occupational health and safety standards and decriminalization of adult sex work. That's it, no heroics required. Give us our rights and we will do the rest!
There you have it, straight from the whore's mouth.
Falls, Ont., man charged in second slaying
Police probe continues into three other deaths of women in 'high-risk lifestyles'
By STEPHEN T. WATSON
NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. - A man already charged with murdering an exotic dancer in Southern Ontario now stands accused of killing a second woman here, police reported Monday.
Members of a task force investigating the killings of five women in this region charged Michael Durant on Monday with first-degree murder in the death of Diane C. Dimitri, whose body was discovered in August 2003 in Welland.
Police officials said that a probe into the other deaths continues and the possibility remains that all five were the work of a serial killer.
"It's taken us months to get to this point, and we still have a lot of work to do," Detective Sgt. Cliff Sexton of the Niagara Regional Police said at a well-
Durant's arrest on an additional murder charge is the latest development in a string of killings that date back 11 years and have shaken residents of this region.
A special investigative task force has been working since January, shortly after the body of the latest victim was discovered, to determine whether the five deaths were connected.
The women all were engaged in what police discreetly called a "high-risk lifestyle" - prostitution or exotic dancing - and all died in or around Niagara Falls, Ont.
Durant first was arrested Jan. 30, six days after the body of Cassey J. Cichocki was discovered off Welland Road in this city. Cichocki, 22, was an exotic dancer known to use drugs, police have said.
Durant, 33, of Niagara Falls, Ont., initially was charged with second-degree murder in Cichocki's death, but that charge has since been upgraded to first-degree murder.
Police on Monday said that tips received from the public during the investigation into Cichocki's death suggested that Durant was involved in Dimitri's death.
The body of Dimitri, a 32-year-old mother of four, was found in August 2003 in a ditch in Welland, according to police.
Sexton, who leads the task force, and other police officials would not say what evidence linked Durant to Dimitri's murder, nor would they comment on a motive for the slayings.
The murders of Dawn Stewart, Nadine Gurczenski and Margaret Jeanette Jugaru also may be connected to the the deaths of Cichocki and Dimitri, said Deputy Chief Donna Moody of the Niagara Regional Police.
"The work of the task force, I must reiterate, has not been completed," Moody said, before adding that there is no specific information at this time tying Durant to the other killings.
The three unsolved murders date back to 1996, according to police.
For Dimitri's father, Kyri Kyriacou, Monday's announcement brings the prospect of closure after three years of heartache and unanswered questions.
Kyriacou calmly addressed a battery of reporters at the news conference and urged the media to use discretion in describing the lifestyles of his daughter and the other slain women.
"They're all daughters, and they're all sisters, and they're all humans, and they're all girls that were led down the wrong path," he said.
Kyriacou said his daughter was a loving mother and blamed her troubles on the depression that she sank into after her husband's death.
"That took a toll on her, and from there it was downhill all the way," he said. He added that he and his wife are raising Dimitri's four children, who range in age from 5 to 15.
An advocate for sex workers said she's glad that police appear to be diligently pursuing the investigation and that the arrest of the same person for two of the murders doesn't surprise her.
"If he's the one responsible for those two [deaths], and possibly others, I'm very happy that he's behind bars," said Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, a Toronto-based organization that promotes the rights of sex workers.
Sex workers pleased with task force arrest
News that Niagara police made an arrest in connection with the unsolved homicide of young woman is giving hope to a former prostitute that her friend's killer will soon be captured.
"Someone has to be held accountable. Whomever hands she died at, they need to be caught," said Nanson, who now assists sex-trade workers and addicts through Come Walk a Mile, a Hamilton-based support group,
Cold Cases: Behind the 'forgotten' 25
Jun 25, 2006 9:48am
Nick Pron and Dale Anne Freed
"If you want to commit the perfect murder, go out and kill someone you don't know and shut up about it."
— A local detective who, for obvious reasons, does not want to be named. They've been called "the forgotten," 25 murdered or missing women whose names have faded from public consciousness. Over the past 15 years, a total of 25 women who lived what police call "high-risk lifestyles" have been slain in the Golden Horseshoe, an area stretching around Lake Ontario from Niagara Falls to Toronto. Fourteen of those murders took place in or around the GTA.
Some of the murders were likely the work of serial killers, still out there prowling for new victims, say police.
Ten of the victims were strangled. One was clubbed to death. Two were pregnant.
One victim was Darlene MacNeill, a 35-year-old Parkdale prostitute. Her killer choked her unconscious, then dumped her into Lake Ontario, drowning her in a nine-year-old cold case.
"Just another police statistic." That's what MacNeill's mother, Winnie Cornish, says about her daughter's slaying.
"She's forgotten. If she was a judge's daughter, the case would have been solved by now."
As the MacNeill case and the other Golden Horseshoe murders grow colder with each passing year, it's unlikely they'll ever get solved, even with DNA and recent advances in police investigative techniques, such as PowerCase, a computerized database of violent crimes.
"Most homicides are crimes of passion," says one local detective who requested anonymity. "Hate and love are strong emotions that push people to do things they would normally be appalled by.
"Homicide investigations are done in concentric circles," starting with people who have an emotional attachment to the victim, and working outwards.
"The problem with `high-risk' women is that they meet dozens of men they don't know every day. That makes the suspect pool enormous. The cases are wickedly difficult to solve."
In Ontario between 1991 and 2004, only four of every 10 murders of women in the sex trade were solved.
For all other murders in the province during that time, the average "clearance rate" was more than double that, a study done for the Toronto Star by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics at Statistics Canada shows.
There's another lesser-known problem common to "high-risk" murders. "Hurting an unarmed woman is not a macho crime, like beating up some guy in a bar," says another detective. "You aren't inclined to go around bragging that you roughed up a hooker because your manhood failed you."
That means fewer tips are phoned in to Crime Stoppers on the murder of street women than in other slayings.
But excuses are not what the relatives of the victims want to hear. Often angry and frustrated, they call for the police to put more resources into the cases.
Police officers bristle at the notion that some murders are more important than others, with the killing of prostitutes on the bottom rung of the ladder. "Yes, the trail has gone cold on some of those slayings," says Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair. "But we still have officers assigned to each one. No case is ever forgotten."
Police insist they never close the books on a murder, but admit that in many of the cold cases of street women they need fresh leads if there's to be any hope of an arrest.
"It's a very difficult chore telling the relatives we have nothing new on the death of a loved one," says Det. Bob Wilkinson, head of the three-member cold-case unit with the Toronto police homicide squad.
"It would be nice to say, `I have a positive thing to tell you.' I'd like to say that, but unless I receive new information I can't advance (the case) any further."
For the past six months, a task force set up by Niagara Region police and assisted by officers from the Hamilton and the Halton forces, has probed five slayings in Niagara Falls, along with three others in Hamilton. They've made one arrest.
"Investigations like these are very labour-intensive," says Staff Sgt. Cliff Sexton, the Niagara officer heading up the 12-member task force, who is hoping to "bring some closure" to some of the families.
"The summaries alone are up to 500 pages."
The last time Toronto police put together a task force on street women was nine years ago. Last month, the force formed a squad called the Special Victims Unit, which focuses on getting child sex workers off the street. That could include providing assistance to cold-case detectives probing the unsolved slayings of prostitutes.
But unless there are more solid tips, the cold "high-risk" cases will remain nothing more than fodder for conversation whenever police get together, such as at the recent meeting of the "Golden Horseshoe Homicide Investigators Association," where the cases were discussed.
The media run into their own roadblocks. Relatives are typically reluctant to talk, often angry, or embarrassed, over how reporters portray the victims, focusing only on the sex trade part of their lives.
Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, says sex workers live with the constant fear of getting beat up, robbed or murdered.
She says that the general attitude of the public seems to be that prostitutes are "non-persons, subhuman" and that killing them is "no big deal."
But she says there has been a drop in violence against sex workers because of recent initiatives by the Toronto force, such as the "Anonymous Bad Date Line," which helps police identify vicious men, making arrests before that repeated brutality leads to murder.
Anastasia Kuzyk, with the Sex Workers Alliance of Toronto, says society is apathetic to the fate of sex workers, seeing them as "disposable" people.
"It's often suggested that nobody misses them, but it's not true. They're missed."
The last initiative by the Toronto police to focus on the murder of street women was Project Break Wall, an 11-member task force devoted to the killing of three prostitutes from Parkdale, all addicted to crack.
Police feared the murders could be the work of a serial killer because of the similarities in the slayings — all three women had been choked and their bodies were dumped into the water near a shoreline break wall south of Lake Shore Blvd. W.
There were no arrests, although police released a composite sketch of a possible suspect, described as a man in his mid-30s, slim, with tattooed arms and shoulder-length blond hair.
Across Canada, public pressure has prompted the police to pay more attention to the murders of fringe women.
For instance, in Vancouver, the disappearance of 50 sex-trade workers in the 1990s was marked by controversy and allegations that the police weren't interested in finding out what happened to them. Initially, the police said that because of their transient lifestyle, they may have simply left the city and moved elsewhere.
It was only after pressure from family and friends through the media that a task force was set up. That investigation led to the arrest of Robert Pickton, a 52-year-old pig farmer who is now before the courts on 26 counts of first-degree murder.
The disappearance and murder of nine women along a remote stretch of highway in northern B.C., linking Prince Rupert and Prince George, and dubbed the "highway of tears," has led to public demands that the police, the government and the local native bands take action to end the killings.
In Ontario, police forces were admonished in a 1996 study by Justice Archie Campbell into what went wrong in the hunt for the killers of Kristen French and Leslie Mahaffy. The judge criticized them for a "dangerous lack of co-ordination."
One response to that report was PowerCase. It took eight years and $32 million to develop the computerized database of criminal occurrences in the province, one that automatically advises the province's 60 police forces by email of possible links between criminal cases.
But while PowerCase has been credited with helping to solve current cases, such as the arrest of a suspect by the Niagara police in two of the more recent prostitute slayings, entering data from cold cases is a time-consuming process. Forces, like Toronto's, don't always have the manpower to do it.
Chief Blair says his force was firmly committed to PowerCase. "All our current cases are in the system," he says. But what about the cold cases? "If an older case was tied to a current case, then we would look at putting it into PowerCase."
That means Toronto's unsolved murders before PowerCase, whose use became mandatory for police in February 2005, are typically stored away in banker's boxes.
Although the cases have gone cold, the head of Toronto's cold case squad is cautiously optimistic there could be some arrests down the road.
"We have solid directions in two or three cases," says Wilkinson, declining to offer specifics.
He constantly gets calls from detectives who have worked the cases, even some who have retired from the force.
"Police officers carry a flag for these murders," he says.
"They know they're unsolved. They don't forget.
Financial confusion in the sex trade
Monday, July 10th/06
By LINDA LEATHERDALE S&M (Sex and Money Column)
When I was a naive teenager growing up in Orillia, I’d tell my Toronto boyfriends, “pick me up on Jarvis Street.”
For years, I couldn’t understand the snickers such an invitation would evoke. After all, picking me up a block away from my home spared these suitors a grilling from my strict dad.
It wasn’t until I moved to the Big Smoke that I got it.
Jarvis Street is home to ladies of the night, who make their living from the “worlds oldest profession.” Trust me, it’s not a career I’d consider.
It wasn’t until I was asked while on a radio talk show if prostitution should be legalized that I gave it a second thought.
Valerie Scott, a Toronto hooker who’s been around the block a few times, has taken her fight to Ottawa to make prostitution a safer and healthier career.
How? As Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), explains: “We don’t want prostitution legalized, we want it decriminalized.”
Then she explained something that blew my mind.
Under our convoluted laws, it’s perfectly legal for a horny dude to hire Valerie through an escort service (as long as the hiring’s done on a land line and not a cell phone, which is considered public airways) and for her to go to his rented room, even his house, and have sex for money. The cost can vary from $150 an hour to $1,000, depending on the servicing.
But, Valerie cannot invite a client to her home to have sex. That’s considered running a common bawdy house, and that’s illegal. If caught, Valerie says, “you’ll be lucky to be left with your purse.” Not only are bank accounts seized and frozen, but if found guilty you can face up to two years in jail. It’s also illegal to walk Jarvis Street or any other street and solicit or communicate sex for money.
To prove how ridiculous Canada’s prostitution laws are, SPOC sent 308 chocolate coins to MPs in Ottawa last Christmas, with a note congratulating them on becoming “a pimp” just by accepting the gift.
Valerie claims legalization of prostitution, as in the Netherlands and Australia’s Victoria state, has led to a ghetto of low-paying jobs for prostitutes, while pimps and governments get rich. But decriminalization, as in New Zealand and Australia’s New South Wales state, has made prostitution a safer, healthier and more financially-rewarding career.
She says hookers could then work out of their bedrooms in the safety of their homes and with co-workers, which avoids the threat of gang rapes and violent sex acts.
There are also tax benefits, because the bedroom, with its satin sheets and other boudoir trappings, becomes tax deductible. Tax accountant Steve Ranot of Marmer Penner explains: “If she’s self-employed, she could write off a portion of the home used for business purposes, plus rent, utilities, property taxes, etc.”
Ranot also says that if a hooker is an employee of an escort service, she’d be smart to get her employer to sign a T-2200A form, which indicates to the Canada Revenue Agency that she’s required to use her home for business. Write-offs then would also be allowed.
Bottom-line is, there’s confusion in the sex trade, and that’s why many of these professionals live and work in the underground economy.
Valerie says since sex for money is not illegal — for years she’s faithfully filed a tax return and written off a variety of costs — from breast implants to condoms and sexy outfits.
Other sex professionals are terrified to file a tax return — and by not doing so they’re missing out on investing in RRSPs, taking advantage of Ottawa’s Home Buyers Plan, and other options.
“We’re an industry that needs financial advice,” agrees Valerie, who adds hookers can earn anywhere from $40,000 a year to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hmmm. Financial planning for the sex trade. That gives a whole new meaning to “let me whip your finances into shape.”
You can call Linda Leatherdale at (416) 947-2332 or e-mail at email@example.com
Sex worker cabaret celebrating lust targets our willingness to make caressing a crime
By DEBBIE O'ROURKE
August 31, 2006
Make caressing a crime it's a steamy summer night in the ballroom of the Gladstone Hotel. Stunning black-clad Mirha-Soleil Ross straddles a chair, leans toward the audience and describes her favourite johns: widowers not ready to love again but needing comfort after their loss; and a man in a years-long struggle to bring his wife to Canada who told her, "If I couldn't be with someone nice every few months, I'd kill myself."
Welcome to the Bawdyhouse Burlesque, hosted by Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC). A few men dressed to the nines wander wistful as urchins in a toy store.
But love isn't for sale tonight. The goal is to raise money for SPOC, whose main objective is to organize toward the decriminalization of sex work through political activism, community building and public awareness.
Prostitution isn't illegal in Canada, but communicating for its purposes is. Living off the proceeds is, too. All of which makes it a high-risk lifestyle. "We are dying here," says Valerie Scott, SPOC's current head.
Women who make their living at the edge of the law are vulnerable to both law-breakers and enforcers. The laws against communication prevent them from working in groups. Laws that force prostitutes and their clients into hiding also hide the abusers. SPOC says its members have been threatened for spreading descriptions of bad johns.
This funder features cancan dancers and poetry and song from rap to grunge. But the highlight of the night is the moving spoken-word performances about their encounters on the street by women who work or have worked in the sex industry.
Ross's monologue, Dearest John, demonstrates that most johns don't deserve the humiliation of prosecution under current john laws.
To deconstruct the "pimp law" against living off the avails of prostitution, Scott distributes little favours to the audience a shiny nickel in a tiny plastic bag. "Congratulations," she announces. "You're all my pimps!"
"This law criminalizes all of our relationships," Scott explains. "A roommate, girlfriend or boyfriend, anyone who lives with us or with whom we share can be charged. Charge pimps when they do wrong, for what they do wrong. Charge them with confinement, abuse whatever. Don't charge my parents because I sent them a Christmas present."
Wendy Babcock, statuesque in black with red feathers, has been resisting the aforementioned wistful dudes' pleas made aloud to come out of retirement. She makes the point that sex work in Canada and globally is often the only work that pays a woman a living wage.
"If I feel exploited at $150 an hour, I need a serious reality check," adds Mirha-Soleil Ross.
But SPOC's big target in an evening that celebrates lust, love and the body is society's willingness to, in her words, "condemn and even jail us for the crime of caressing and holding each other."
Tips on slayings still coming in to police task force
Rumours of a
serial killer preying on young women began to circulate almost as soon
as the body of Cassey Cichocki was discovered in the city's north end in
Then in June,
police laid a second charge against the same man, this time in
connection with the death of Margaret Jeanette Jugaru, 26, one of the
four slayings in question.
force is continuing its investigative work.
LEGAL OR NOT, SEX TRADE HERE TO STAY
November 13, 2006
Toronto Star newspaper
Sex is a primal urge. Yet libido rubs a lot of people the wrong way.
Most humans have sex, sometimes with love, just as often without. In marriage, outside of marriage, as a side dish to marriage. It's not ours to judge.
But if you pay for it — or charge for it — a kind of atavistic wrath, from a disapproving society, will fall on your head.
Prostitutes are just about the last breed of people who can be publicly excoriated for what they are, in a language of loathing that would be intolerable if applied to anyone else. It's the argot of shaming. And the attitudes that lie beneath — their lesser status as human beings, because they trade in flesh — is precisely what permits the widespread abuse of women and men who retail their bodies, such that even their murders can pass without vigorous investigation.
In the antiquated semantics of policing and criminal code legislation, sex is still a vice. Merchandising it is a crime, soliciting it is a crime, purchasing it is a crime, in all but the most narrowly defined circumstances. But using sex to sell product that's advertising. Using sex to titillate — that's entertainment.
Using sex to snare a partner — that's courtship.
It was interesting to read an investigative report on the front page of Saturday's Star, detailing what was described as "brothels-in-the-sky'' — prostitutes working out of residential high-rise buildings in Toronto, a phenomenon that is clearly bugging the snot out of many fellow tenants who, presumably, get their own sex by more conventional means. Bully for them. Others don't have sex so close to hand. They have to go looking for it. Fortunately, there are plenty of sex-trade workers willing to provide the service. That doesn't make either prostitute or customer a monster.
The prostitutes and their clients were portrayed with ripe descriptors, variously derided for their provocative clothing, their cheap cologne, their contaminating presence. A property manager likened them to "cockroaches.'' One morally upright resident said she felt like bathing her kids in Lysol after elevator encounters with the whores. Is this because of exposure to their moral depravity? Or the toxic aura of the stigmatized sex they make?
Insofar as any of this is a genuine quality-of-life urban issue —and I do understand the discomfort zone created by overt sexual entrepreneurship, although I don't share the repugnance — it was created by a circle-jerk dance of the deviant: The forces of good shutting down pseudo "holistic centres'' operating as de facto bordellos. Two decades ago, it was massage parlours.
Only to arise anew, this time burrowing more deeply into residential neighbourhoods. Whence, it should be noted, come their clientele.
Those are your husbands and sons and brothers, looking to get laid.
And what of it? Maybe sex is just an uncomplicated grunt with a stranger for them. Maybe they strike out in bars. Maybe they come from cultures where dating isn't permitted, much less sexual intimacy. Maybe they're not getting any at home.
There's no point trying to figure out motive. The groin wants what it wants. And there's even less point trying to smother biological imperatives. It's bred in the bone, if steeped in hypocrisy.
Righteous preachers who bible-thump about sin get caught with their pants down. Cops who arrest johns coerce hookers into giving them freebies. Politicians who promote "family values'' fall victim to honey-traps.
Even in our sophisticated, judgment-neutral society, there is a resistant puritan streak that thinks it can and should control lust.
Apart from creating a sexual bureaucracy— the vice squads that arrest them, the Crown attorneys who prosecute them, the lawyers who defend them — nothing has changed. The sex is still there. It will always be.
Over the years, I have covered countless commissions and task forces and public consultations on prostitution. Inevitably, somebody will propose creating red-light districts — sex ghettos — where prostitutes can operate legally, under a stern regulatory eye, subject to health inspection, taxation, and otherwise treated with odious paternalism. The implication is that prostitutes require looking after, as if they were children or morons, and the rest of us need to be protected from them. They have to be segregated.
This is so palpably not the way to go. But nobody listens to the core pleading of sex-trade workers that prostitution be "decriminalized" so they can work safely from their homes, without threat of arrest, in control of their environment and their patrons.
"Here's the major problem,'' says Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (founded 1983, née Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes), and a practitioner for decades. "The existing legislation sees what we do as a vice. It doesn't see it as a legitimate business.''
Bawdy house rules make it illegal to work from their homes. "Living off the avails," intended to curb pimping, isolates them. "That criminalizes all of our healthy and normal relationships. We're not allowed to have a lover, a spouse, a roommate. We're so dirty, so morally bankrupt, that anyone who associates with us should be in jail. If I send a Christmas present to my parents, technically even that's illegal, because it comes from the profits of prostitution.''
This is what happens in most jurisdictions, such as Amsterdam, where prostitution has been legalized: The house gets 50 per cent, the government takes 25 per cent, the women work 10-hour shifts, they're not permitted to decline a client, and the brothel operator commonly extorts sex for himself into the bargain. Dutch women on the game won't accept those conditions so they work illegally. "Those women in the windows? All foreigners, from Eastern European countries,'' says Scott. "They're the only ones willing to put up with that level of extortion.''
The international trafficking in sex slaves, that's an entirely different problem and should not be conflated with prostitution as a legitimate career choice. "If there's extortion, charge their handlers,'' says Scott. "Assault, intimidation, coercion, forcible confinement — charge them. If prostitution is decriminalized, it will make it a lot easier for those girls to get away. Deal with it as an immigration matter. As it is, we can't get to her. She's terrified of the police, of being deported."
Scott is equally contemptuous of the perception that prostitutes are unclean and need to be monitored up the wazoo. In fact, health studies in the United States have shown that sexually transmitted diseases are far less common among prostitutes than the general population. "I don't see anybody demanding that our clients be tested for STDs. See, they're morally clean. But prostitutes have been taking care of their own sexual health since before the invention of penicillin. And if the state tries to go poking around in my vagina, I won't allow it.''
It was Pierre Elliott Trudeau who famously declared that the state doesn't belong in the bedroom.
It doesn't belong in a prostitute's $-spot either.
Sex workers to sue over anti-prostitution laws
Updated Sun. Dec. 17 2006 11:34 PM ET
OTTAWA -- A leading advocacy group for decriminalizing prostitution in Canada is planning to take the federal government to court over laws that it says endanger the lives of sex workers across the country.
Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, says the legal action will go ahead in January.
"The communicating and bawdy house laws are arbitrary," Scott said in an interview from Toronto.
"They do more harm than good, and we'll be filing in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. We're hoping to get a judgement from them within two years. Then we'll go to the Supreme Court of Canada with it."
The common bawdy house laws can evict women from their homes, since landlords receive a notice of their alleged activities, said Wendy Babcock, spokeswoman for the Sex Professionals of Canada.
Scott, who expects to be one of the plaintiffs in the court case, says the group will challenge the country's solicitation laws on constitutional grounds.
The sex trade in Canada falls into a legal grey area because, while prostitution itself is not illegal, activities related to it are. Individuals who communicate for the purpose of prostitution or who sell sexual services can be charged under the Criminal Code.
"It's really unfortunate that our profession is one of the few professions that doesn't have any legal protection to it," Babcock said. "Making it illegal is just forcing women into dangerous situations."
News of violence against sex trade workers has garnered headlines in recent weeks. The slayings of five women in Ipswitch, England, triggered warnings for prostitutes there to stay off the streets.
In Canada, a seven-months-pregnant mother of three was stabbed to death in Gatineau, Que., after an alleged "bad date." And jurors have just been selected for the trial of Robert Picton, the alleged serial killer of at least 26 sex workers from Vancouver's notorious Downtown Eastside.
A 2006 Statistics Canada report said women in the sex trade are extremely vulnerable to violence which "often goes unnoticed."
"According to police reports submitted to Statistics Canada, between 1991 and 2004, 171 female prostitutes were killed and 45 per cent of these homicides remain unsolved," the report said.
Statistics on the homicide rate of sex workers are "almost certainly lower than the real figures," according to a report issued this month by a Commons subcommittee. Three-quarters of the homicides reported to the panel took place in Vancouver, Montreal, Edmonton, Toronto, Winnipeg and Ottawa-Gatineau.
But after hearing testimony from over 300 witnesses, MPs from the various parties on the subcommittee coudln't agree on legislative changes to the prostitution laws.
Many advocates of sex workers' rights, such as Samantha Smyth of the Canadian National Coalition of Experiential Women, say it's time to have a national debate.
Violence is a daily threat in the lives of sex workers, said Smyth, noting that Sunday was the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. In Canada, marches and candlelight vigils were scheduled in Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa.
There are no official figures on how many people are engaged in prostitution in this country. It's estimated that only five to 20 per cent of those involved in prostitution work on the streets. A majority work in such venues as hotels, strip clubs or private homes.
Jenn Clamen, mobilization co-ordinator of Stella, a Montreal-based support and information group by and for sex workers, slammed the Commons panel for failing to recommend decriminalizing prostitution. Instead, the report urged increased education and programs to prevent people from entering the trade.
"The lack of legal protection and non-recognition of the work of sex workers is leading to violence and marginalization," Clamen said.
Stella publishes a "bad date" bulletin in a city estimated to have about 5,000 to 10,000 sex workers.
Jody Paterson, executive director of the Prostitutes Empowerment Education and Resource Society in Victoria, said a solution to the problem of violence is urgently needed.
"How come the only time people talk about prostitution is when a few sex workers have been murdered? I just don't get this," said Paterson.
John Lowman, criminology professor at Simon Fraser University and a leading expert on prostitution, agrees.
Lowman predicts the upcoming court case will be successful because current federal legislation violates the rights of sex workers to "life, liberty and safety."
"It's high time these laws were struck down," says Lowman. "They make no sense."
Hamilton Spectator wire services
A leading advocacy group for decriminalizing prostitution in Canada plans to take the federal government to court over laws it says endanger the lives of sex workers across the country.
The sex trade in Canada falls into a legal grey area because prostitution itself is not illegal, but activities related to it are. Individuals who communicate for the purpose of prostitution or who sell sexual services can be charged under the Criminal Code.
'Platitudes, moralism and band-aid solutions'
Tom Sandborn / Xtra West / Thursday, December 21, 2006
"It was three years in the making and it is vague in the extreme. The recommendations offer nothing," says Glenn Betteridge, referring to the report tabled Dec 13 by the Parliamentary subcommittee investigating Canada's sex laws.
OTTAWA — Prostitutes in Canada increasingly fear they’ll meet a violent end but they’re turning to each other, not the police, for protection.
Crimes against sex workers have become so prevalent, they are now “normalized,” says Wendy Babcock, spokesperson for Sex Professionals of Canada.
“It’s happening across the country,” agrees Lauren Casey, co-ordinator of a sex worker advocacy group, Canadian National Coalition of Experiential Women.
“The horrific things that are going on are targeted across the (sex worker) population. It’s almost like a hate crime.”
Casey says the recent “Ipswich Ripper” slayings of prostitutes in England have left some Canadian sex workers “absolutely horrified.”
The trial of Robert Pickton, the alleged serial killer of 26 prostitutes in Vancouver, begins next month. The recent murder of a sex worker in Gatineau, Que., remains unsolved.
A House of Commons sub-committee concluded earlier this month that the number of reported homicides among sex workers is “almost certainly lower than the real figures.”
“You can’t even really rely on the statistics (but) what’s happened over the years is that we know that there’s an increase in violence,” says Jeanne Rokosh, chair of the Halifax-based Stepping Stone program.
The Toronto-based Sex Professionals of Canada runs a hot line for prostitutes to report assaults.
“But that’s not even an accurate reflection of incidents occurring every half hour,” Scott adds.
After launching a hot line in November, Ottawa police have yet to receive one call. Toronto police received 50 to 60 reports of violence against prostitutes in the last 18 months.
Toronto’s hotline allows prostitutes to leave anonymous tips but that very anonymity makes it difficult to catch the perpetrators, Hamel adds.
Instead, prostitutes are trying to help each other stay out of harm’s way.
This year’s list for Victoria’s Prostitutes Empowerment, Education and Resource Society includes incidents of strangulation, rape and assaults with a cleaver and a hammer.