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).