Sex Work in Calgary: Fourth Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the fourth.

The level of street sex work in Calgary has been rapidly decreasing (Platt, 2013).  In the last few years, the four main prostitution strolls in the city have diminished to two. In 2012, police received 370 prostitution-related calls, a 25% decrease from the year before. Police say that higher-priced sex workers have almost vanished from view, leaving only the most marginalized sex workers working the streets. Police believe that the internet has allowed for more sex workers to work indoors. However, this has not necessarily led to safer practices. Recruiting clients online has allowed pimps to hide underage prostitutes from police.  Furthermore, sex workers are more likely to work in isolation, and are sharing less information about bad dates.

Residential complaints and gentrification have led police to relocate strolls in the city in the past (Brannigan, 1994). For example, a popular stroll in the area of the National Hotel was relocated to Eight Avenue in the East Village. In 1994, this stroll was relocated again near Stampede Park due to new developments in the East Village. This relocation was met with a lot of opposition from residents.

Sex workers in Calgary have reported that the sex trade in the city is safer and more discrete than in other places they’ve worked (Samuel & Benjamin, 2013). The industry is dispersed across the city, which can pose a challenge to community organizations trying to outreach to sex workers.

Calgary police report that two thirds of the people they charge for communicating for the purpose of prostitution are men (Simpson, 2009). In the late 1980s, Calgary police began to specifically target customers (Brannigan, 1994).  While in 1987, there were almost no charges laid against customers, by 1993, 60% of charges involved customers. Around the same time, police also began to target pimps, recognizing that the communication arrests were not deterring prostitution. While “there is an 85-99% likelihood prostitution offenders will be charged by police”, police “often recommend alternative measures in their reports to the crown” (Simpson, 2009, p.13).

The communication law also led to a high number of arrests of teenage prostitutes (Brannigan, 1994). Recognizing that underage prostitution in Calgary was pervasive, police began to target underage sex workers in the 1980s to deter minors from entering the profession.  It is estimated that minors represent 10-12% of sex workers in Alberta, with 15.6 years being the average age of entering the sex trade in the province (TASCC, 2013). A study done by the United Way of Calgary found that these youth often will work for food, clothes, shelter or drugs instead of money, a form of the trade referred to as “survival sex” (Calgary Herald, 2007). Furthermore, pimps will often go to public places such as shopping malls to recruit young girls.  Malborough Mall was highlighted as a place where this regularly occurs. After interviewing 50 young sex workers, McIntyre (2001) found that 82% of her interviewees had experienced sexual abuse before entering the trade.

Calgary has a limited amount of police enforcement focused on prostitution. While Edmonton has 6 vice detectives, and Vancouver has 10, Calgary only has 2 vice department positions (Simpson 2009).  Calgary often uses loitering and public behavior municipal bylaws to target street sex workers, as well as the new vehicle seizure legislation.

165 Escorts and 19 Escort Agencies were licensed in Calgary in 2008 (Simpson, 2009). One escort agency estimated that college students represented half of their escorts. While over 2000 massage practitioners were granted licenses, police estimate that 2% of them were in fact given to disguised bawdy houses, representing up to 50 businesses. Based on police estimates, Brannigan (1994) writes that there are anywhere between 600-2000 sex workers working in Calgary in any given year.

Servants Anonymous Society (SAS) and the Shift Program are two of the only community organizations in Calgary that specifically service sex workers (Simpson, 2009).  While Shift works with both male and female sex workers currently working, as well as those exiting the profession, SAS exclusively focuses on helping women leave prostitution. Some sex workers have reported being frustrated by the fact that the services in Calgary seem female-focused, “feeling that programs for men were add-ons to services provided for women, rather than specialized services” (Samuel & Benjamin, 2013).

The level of street sex work in Calgary has been rapidly decreasing (Platt, 2013).  In the last few years, the four main prostitution strolls in the city have diminished to two. In 2012, police received 370 prostitution-related calls, a 25% decrease from the year before. Police say that higher-priced sex workers have almost vanished from view, leaving only the most marginalized sex workers working the streets. Police believe that the internet has allowed for more sex workers to work indoors. However, this has not necessarily led to safer practices. Recruiting clients online has allowed pimps to hide underage prostitutes from police.  Furthermore, sex workers are more likely to work in isolation, and are sharing less information about bad dates.

Residential complaints and gentrification have led police to relocate strolls in the city in the past (Brannigan, 1994). For example, a popular stroll in the area of the National Hotel was relocated to Eight Avenue in the East Village. In 1994, this stroll was relocated again near Stampede Park due to new developments in the East Village. This relocation was met with a lot of opposition from residents.

Calgary police have tried to reach out to prostitutes to encourage them to report crimes and to help them access services, distributing their contact information directly to sex workers on the street. Brannigan (1994) argues that the rise in charges against pimps has proved that this strategy has been effective, as these cases require cooperation from exploited sex workers. Simpson (2009) also found that the majority of sex workers she spoke to had positive interactions with police. However, Samuel and Benjamin (2013) reported that the majority of sex workers they interviewed had negative impressions of police, despite the fact that they did not all have direct interactions with them.

Based on police reports, Brannigan argues that there has been a clear rise in violence against sex workers in Calgary since the enactment of the communication law, but also notes a rise in violence against women generally in the city since then.  However, police only record whether a reported crime is committed against a sex worker if the victim discloses this information, which is not always the case (Howell, 2010).

Sex Work in Toronto: Third Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the third.

Street prostitution in Toronto was concentrated around Jarvis and Wellesley, Kingston Rd. and Parkdale (Crawford, 2009). However, police raids and gentrification have pushed sex workers to other areas of the city as well, “including Browns Line, Danforth Ave., Weston Rdl, Eglinton Ave. W. and Steeles Ave” (Crawford, 2009, n.p.). It is estimated that only 5-10% of sex workers in Toronto are street based (STAR, 2006).

Toronto police report that sex workers in the Jarvis and Church area can earn as much as $300 per client (Doolittle 2009). “Jarvis is one of the few areas in the city where higher-end prostitutes work outdoors” (Doolittle, 2009, n.p.). They also report that southeast of Jarvis and Wellesley Sts is a common work area for transgendered prostitutes, while there is a concentration of drug-addicted sex workers working along River, Shuter and Sherbourne Sts, who “earn as little as $20 for sex acts” (Doolittle, 2009, n.p.). However, the recent recession has decreased earnings for many different kinds of sex workers, including those who work indoors, forcing some to work in more high-risk situations to earn a living (Crawford, 2009).

Toronto regulates exotic massage, exotic dancing and other adult entertainment through city bylaws (STAR, 2006). Sex workers working in these areas find the city’s license fees to be discriminatory, set much higher for them then other occupations. The city also makes it illegal for licensed ‘Body Rub Parlours’ to lock their public-access doors. Though perhaps intended to increase safety by giving police better access to these businesses, it also leads to “increased surveillance and potential arrest” (STAR, 2006, p.24).

In the first few years after it was passed, police made an effort to evenly apply the communication law to both sex workers and clients in Toronto (STAR, 2006). While the police found targeting clients to be effective in decreasing the number of street prostitutes, they also found that many of these workers moved into escort agencies, “increas[ing] the number of pimps and their ability to dominate the prostitution trade” (Larsen, 1996, p.33). Police shifted their focus to escort agencies, only to displace sex workers back to the streets, and then returned to targeting female street prostitutes, only pushing them to different areas of the city. Their failed tactics proved that tougher penalties on sex workers do not in fact diminish street prostitution.

Maggie’s “has reported numerous incidents of police either physically abusing or condoning the abuse of prostitutes” in Toronto (Davis, 1994, n.p.). 

The first John School in Canada was established in Toronto in 1996, soon to be followed by other Canadian cities including Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver (Wortley, Fischer & Webster, 2002). Most who go the John school have been caught by undercover police officers posing as prostitutes. The “victim-oriented presentations seek to educate the Johns- through a confrontational shaming ritual about the damage and pain prostitution-related behavior has caused” (Wortley, et al., 2002, p.373).

Migrant sex workers are concentrated in urban centers in Canada, but are particularly present in Toronto. “The city is also used as a jump off point (taking advantage of Canada’s notoriously lax immigration system) for the sex trade in the rest of North America” (Mackenzie Institute, 2000, n.p.). It is estimated that there are “several thousand migrants working in Toronto’s strip clubs, massage parlours, escort services, underground brothels and street prostitution”, and that that 75% of exotic dancers working in Toronto are foreign nationals (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009). “ [T]he information coming from the club owners suggested that foreign women made up to 75% of all exotic dancers in the country, while Canadian dancers argued that this situation was unique to Toronto” (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009, p.37).

In 1997, there was a wave of raids on strip clubs and apartments that targeted migrant sex workers (Brock, Gillies, Oliver & Mook, 2000). This tactic continues to be used by Toronto police.  Targeting migrant sex workers is “being used as a rationale to clamp down on prostitution generally” (Brock, et al., 2000, p.89).

While the media portrayed these “places as dens of female sexual slavery and organized crime” (Brock, et al., 2000, p.87), the reality of migrant sex workers is far more complex. While service organizations have reported “dozens of cases of trafficked women”, they represent a minority of migrant sex workers (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009).  However, migrant sex workers face a complex set of challenges.

“Studies conducted in various parts of the world consistently show that migrant sex workers remain largely outside of the legal, medical and social services structures of the host nations. Poor language skills, usually undocumented status, limited understanding of foreign laws and regulations, absence of support networks, and subjection to xenophobia result in the extreme marginalization of migrants, putting them at a greater risk of abuse and exploitation. Migrants are also more likely to be affected by the negative social dynamics of the sex trade, marked by discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, class, age, and specific place in the industry’s hierarchy” (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009, p.8). While there are a growing number of agencies in Toronto that serve migrant sex workers, many lack the specialized training and the needed resources to best serve this community.

Advocacy organizations for sex workers have existed in Toronto for some time (STAR, 2006).  In 1983, the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes was established in Toronto.  Soon after, Maggie’s opened its door, offering support resources and advocacy for sex workers in the city. The Exotic Dancers Alliance (EDA) was formed in 1996, followed by the Exotic Dancers Association of Canada (EDAC) in 2000.

Sex Work In Vancouver’s Eastside: Second Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the second.

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Canada, with “a high concentration of social problems: poverty, mental illness, open substance use and addiction, drug dealing, prostitution, crime, inadequate and insecure housing, high prevalence of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis and tuberculosis, and lack of access to meaningful employment” (Newnham, 2005, p.4).

The Downtown Eastside has approximately 16,000 residents, of which 6,000 are active drug users. Until recently, the rate of drug overdoses in the area was higher than any other city in North America (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). It is estimated that 80% of the female injection drug users work in the sex trade. Sex workers supporting a drug habit are likely to charge less, and this is particularly prevalent in the Downtown Eastside. Sex workers in this area earn from $20 to $80 per client, or even less (Lowman, 2000).

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside has one of the highest HIV/HEPC infection rates in the Western World, and was declared a medical health disaster in 1997.  Cler-Cunningham and Christensen (2001) contend that while $3 million was spent in response to this, it did little to improve the situation. In Vancouver, the HIV infection rate is much higher among female injection drug users than men, a rare occurence in the developed world.  Cler-Cunningham and Christensen argue that this speaks to the terrible conditions of the street-level sex trade.

The Downtown Eastside has become an unofficial tolerance zone, and police have told sex workers that they would not be charged if they remained in this neighborhood (Matas, 2012). Though sex workers had previously worked in other areas of the Downtown Eastside, opposition from residents led police to move the stroll to a five-block area north of Hastings Street in 1988 (Lowman, 2000).  Consequently, sex workers now find themselves working in isolated, poorly lit back alleys.

A study in 2000 found that 70% of street sex workers in the Downtown East Side were Aboriginal women under the age of 26 (Culhane, 2003). Aboriginals represent only 1.7% of Vancouver’s population.

The city of Vancouver has a history of ignoring the plight of street sex workers in the Downtown Eastside. At least 61 women from the area have gone missing since 1983, many of which were Aboriginal women (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). Police and other authorities largely ignored requests to look into these cases.

Robert Pickton was arrested in 2002 in connection with at least 33 murders of sex workers taken from the Downtown Eastside (Ferreras, 2011). Pickton has been officially tied to women who had gone missing between 1997 and 2002.  In 2012, the BC’s Missing Women Commission Inquiry concluded that “systemic bias towards Downtown Eastside sex workers was a key factor that allowed Pickton to spend years hunting his victims” (Keller, 2012, n.p.).

Cler-Cunningham and Christensen contend that while the Downtown Eastside is vastly stigmatized in the media, there are many great initiatives in the area that work to fight the obstacles residents face. Since the 1970s, feminist organizations have established shelters, drop-in centers, and housing options in the neighborhood. Aboriginal women have organized and participated in anti-poverty and anti-violence movements, which started to gain national recognition in the 1990s. An annual Valentine’s Day memorial for the murdered women of the Downtown Eastside was established in 1991, and is now recognized across the country.

The Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society has been representing sex workers from the area in fighting to change prostitution laws in Canada since 2007. In September 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the organization had legal standing to challenge the laws. This case is similar to the one initiated in Ontario, though this organization is particularly focused on street-level sex work (MacCharles, 2012).

Criminologist Kim Rossmo estimates that there are 1300-2600 sex workers working on Vancouver’s streets (Cler-Cunningham & Christensen, 2001). It is estimated that the number off-street sex workers is 6-10 times higher than the number of street sex workers in Vancouver.