Police Response to Reports of
Violence Against Prostitutes

A Submission from Maggie's, the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project to the Police Services Board in response to the Report of an Inquiry into administration of internal investigations by the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force -- August, 1992

Submitted September 25, 1992


The criminality of prostitution and its relationship to violence against prostitutes.

Maggie's, the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project, was initiated by a street prostitute named Peggy Miller in 1986. Maggie's is funded by the Toronto Department of Public Health, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Health and Welfare Canada to provide AIDS education for prostitutes. Maggie's is a peer-run project which means it is run by people from the sex business to provide support services for people in the sex business. Maggie's also produces and distributes the Bad Trick Sheet, a regularly-updated listing of descriptions of bad dates and assailants. The Bad Trick Sheet was started in 1990 and has become a trusted resource on the street. The Bad Trick List has 107 entries to date, 53 so far in 1992. The breakdown of assaults on prostitutes is as follows:

  • 25 were rapes, including 4 gang-rapes.
  • 47 were other assaults
  • 07 were incidents of forcible confinement
  • 16 incidents involved knives, including 3 actual stabbings
  • 05 incidents involved guns
  • 04 incidents involved attempted strangulation
  • 02 incidents were hammer attacks
  • 03 incidents included attempts to run down women with vehicles.

Five incidents reported on the Bad Trick Sheet involved assailants who claimed to be police officers. These do not include incidents reported specifically of police assaults on prostitutes. Very few reports to the Bad Trick Sheet indicated that the incident was reported to the police. Reports of police assaults are not kept on record nor is information regarding whether assaults are reported to police published. Maggie's does provide prostitutes with legal referrals. Maggie's maintains these precautionary policies to protect the project from police and legal harassment.

Prostitutes are vulnerable in relation to the police and the justice system because of a myriad of laws that surround the business of prostitution. The criminalization of prostitution further stigmatizes prostitutes which allows for and promotes "whore bashing." Whore-bashing is hate-related violence and is an act of extreme prejudice fuelled by social stigma. Whore-bashing takes many forms from harassment from carloads of violent teenagers, to dates gone wrong, to the "they deserve what they get" attitude, and the organized harassment of residents groups, vigilante groups and the police. (There have been several reports to Maggie's of prostitutes in Parkdale being beaten up by roving gangs of Guardian Angels. The prostitutes have not filed reports with the police because they fear retaliation.)

It is common knowledge among street prostitutes that there are individual police officers who are malicious towards prostitutes. It is also a common belief that the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force is hostile in general toward prostitutes.

We have every reason to believe that it is this attitude towards prostitutes, both conscious and unconscious, that led to the complete disregard for the victim's concerns and the refusal to press criminal charges with regards to the Whitehead case described in the Report of an Inquiry into the Administration of Internal Investigations by the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force (hence referred to in this submission as "the Report").

All of the laws surrounding prostitution make it illegal for women to operate in safer working conditions. One of the safest ways for prostitutes to work is to establish a place and work with partners. This way of working is criminalized by the bawdy house law, living on the avails, and procuring. All of these can be indictable offenses. The first step in creating safer working conditions for prostitutes would be total decriminalization of prostitution.

The decriminalization of prostitution would not only reduce the number of "dates" serviced on the street, and the number of street prostitutes, (Some girls would move indoors), it would give more time for women working the street to negotiate with clients, without fear of arrest and harassment therefore reducing risk of an assault. A prostitute is more likely to ensure her own safety if she has the time to negotiate with the client and if she can bring the client to her own place without risk of arrest. Prostitution-related laws punish women for taking ownership of their own businesses. Prostitution-related laws clog the courts, waste many tax dollars and cause prostitutes unjust grief and suffering.

Decriminalization would lead to eventual destigmatization of prostitutes. The added hypocrisy of the Junger case is that Gordon Junger was a member of the morality squad when he met Franklina (Roma) Langford and participated in the operation of an escort service which, according to the original article in the Toronto Star, April 7, 1990, that exposed the Junger deal, "...that hired women and men including two other police men to provide sex for money." Meanwhile the Ontario Police Chiefs Association went to Ottawa on May 6, 1992, to lobby to have "communicating for the purpose" changed into an indictable offense.

Recommendations: Decriminalization

  1. THAT the Metropolitan Police Department lobby the federal government to remove prostitution-related offences from the Criminal Code of Canada,

    And THAT the Metropolitan Police Department not participate in any attempts to further criminalize the business of prostitution.

  2. THAT, until prostitution is fully decriminalized, the Metropolitan Police Force immediately stop enforcing all laws specifically related to prostitution.

  3. THAT the Metro Police Force immediately abandon its entrapment strategies for charging and arresting prostitutes.

  4. THAT the Solicitor General of Canada and the Attorney General of Ontario draft anti-entrapment laws.

  5. THAT the Metropolitan Police force phase out the prostitution-related units of the morality squad.

Police Response to incidents of Violence Against Prostitutes

The Report asks, "how are female victims, particularly victims of sexual crimes, treated by the police and the justice system?" (p. 64) Here are some examples from information given to Maggie's outreach workers for the Bad Trick Sheet. As stated before, no information concerning police is published on the Bad Trick Sheet. Descriptions of incidents have been generalized to protect the identities of the people involved.
  • a prostitute went to the police station after she had been brutally raped and tried to report it. the officer she spoke with replied, "Prove it." the Maggie's worker who took the report explained to the woman her legal rights to make a report, and the prostitute blurted out that she had also been raped anally and without a condom. she was extremely upset.

  • a well known street prostitute was beaten and suffered a serious head injury. she had to walk to the hospital in the middle of the night with blood pouring from her wound. she tried to hail a passing police car but they would stop for her.

  • a street prostitute was beaten, choked with a rope and left unconscious in an alley. she had severe bruising on her neck and face the next day when she approached two female police officers to report the incident. they asked her what she expected in her line of work and refused to take a report.

  • a "straight" woman telephoned Maggie's to tell us she had intervened in an assault after she had called police. it was 20 minutes later before an officer arrived at the scene and she demanded to know why. she was told that if it had been another neighbourhood the response would have been within five minutes but because of where she was calling from it was assumed that the woman was a prostitute.

  • a homeless street prostitute was beaten and raped so badly that she ended up in hospital for several days and several months later still required surgery. the hospital called police. the officer who responded to the call had arrested the woman in the past and during the arrest was violent toward her. he told her, in front of hospital staff, that she had it coming and left.

Assaults on prostitutes are no different than assaults on other women. Every assault that happens on a prostitute that doesn't get reported or where eventual charges are not laid leaves a violent person who will assault women free on the street, believing that there will be no consequences for their actions. There needs to be full support for victims of serious and sexual assault so that victims will be encouraged to stand witness.

Because of the criminality of prostitution, prostitutes are seen as expendable by the justice system. Because prostitutes are seen as criminals, often with prior offenses, their reports of assaults are disregarded and trivialized. (Prostitutes have priors because they have been targeted and entrapped by police.) Reports of assaults from prostitutes to the police have often resulted in the prostitute being charged with a prostitution-related offence or being arrested for an outstanding warrant.

The following is an example from information taken for the Bad Trick Sheet:

  • a prostitute had been beaten over the head with a hammer by a client. the woman went directly to the hospital who called the police in the next day. as soon as the prostitute was released she was picked up for an outstanding warrant related to a prostitution-related offence.

Prostitutes are prohibited from reporting incidents of domestic violence to the police for fear of being harassed to testify for living on the avails charges rather than assault charge, thereby incriminating themselves. Prostitutes need to be able to report assaults to the police without fear of being prosecuted for current or outstanding prostitution-related and other minor charges. (Although drug possession is an indictable offence, immunity from drug charges would also be favourable.)

Prostitutes experience the justice system from a position of distrust. Emotional trauma does not seem to be a consideration for a prostitute reporting sexual assault. Their charges are most often plea-bargained down giving priority to the concerns of the assailant. This all makes it even more difficult for a prostitute to press charges to the fullest extent of the law.

Currently, the Solicitor General's office is considering changing assault causing bodily harm, assault with a weapon, threatening, and unlawfully causing bodily harm from indictable to dual offenses. Given the status of prostitutes in a court of law, it is reasonable to assume that if left for the Crown to elect, the majority of the cases of assaults on prostitutes will be tried summarily.

All of these assumptions concerning the treatment of prostitutes by the justice system are again confirmed in the Report. The justice system totally disregarded the safety of Langford, Junger was told that Langford had reported him, released and no criminal charge was pressed for his breach of the conditions of his undertaking to stay away from Langford. The fact that Jane Doe had to obtain an injunction to protect her anonymity further demonstrates total disregard for the concerns of the victim. We believe that these occurrences were due in part because the witnesses were prostitutes.

The Report explicitly states that both Langford and Jane Doe were not considered credible witnesses. When Jane Doe indicated that she was ready and willing to testify in a criminal trial, no criminal charges were laid. We believe that these occurrences were due in part because the witnesses were prostitutes.

The fact that the defense and prosecutor negotiated a penalty of days off in the Whitehead case and that Jane Doe was not informed and had no representation at the hearing suggests collusion in disregard for the concerns of the victim and the seriousness of the offence. We believe that this is because the victim was a prostitute.

The treatment of Jane Doe by the Internal Affairs investigators demonstrates the obvious need for investigators and officers in general to be sensitized to the traumatizing effects of surviving violent and sexual assaults. There is an obvious need to further develop the sexual assault squad. Internal Affairs needs to collaborate with this assault squad when dealing with complaints against an officer of sexual or violent assault. Currently, the sexual assault squad deals with cases which involve sexual assault by a stranger, sexual assault with a weapon, or other sexual assaults considered to be "serious" in nature. The statistics collected on the Bad Trick Sheet show that many assaults reported by prostitutes fall into these categories. It must be understood by the entire police force that violent or sexual assault on a prostitute is no different than an assault on any other citizen and should be treated no differently.

The Report states that, "There is something seriously wrong when sexual assaults are going unprosecuted in cases where the accused is identified, and the allegations are substantiated by police investigators." (p. 66) Because of barriers within the justice system, cases of assaults against prostitutes are rarely even heard. This is unacceptable. Special consideration needs to be given to victim support. We strongly support recommendations 17 through 20 of the Report.

The Report asks, "How can police forces be more effective in gaining the cooperation of victims?" (p. 64)


  1. Since it is evident that not all police officers are capable of dealing with the sensitive nature of sexual violence, THAT a special unit be further developed to deal with all assaults sexual or violent in nature.

    And THAT all reports of assaults sexual or violent in nature should be dealt with by that special assault unit.

  2. THAT all officers be trained in dealing with sexual and partner assault and they should be educated that these assaults are no different for prostitutes.

  3. THAT where an officer does not properly maintain reports in cases of assault, that the officer be prosecuted under The Police Act, and where applicable, the Criminal Code of Canada

  4. THAT charges laid by prostitutes not be trivialized; this means that if a prostitute is assaulted with a weapon and is caused bodily harm then both charges apply, not just a simple assault charge.

  5. THAT the Metropolitan Police Department lobby the Solicitor General's Office to maintain the indictable status of the assault laws.

  6. THAT the protection of anonymity of victims of sexual crimes be available throughout case proceedings whether they be criminal proceedings or Police Act proceedings.

  7. THAT prostitutes reporting assaults to the police be immune from any current or outstanding charges related to prostitution or any other charges considered to be minor in nature.

  8. THAT when dealing with reports of domestic violence where a prostitute is involved, the police press charges using the assault laws rather than charging the assailant with living on the avails.

Police Violence Against Prostitutes

"The public must be assured that when wrongdoing by an officer is suspected, the case will be investigated swiftly, and if there is evidence to lay a charge, prosecuted vigorously. There must be no special treatment because the person under investigation wears a badge."(p. 4.)

Perhaps we need a similar statement that guarantees that there will be no special treatment because the victim is a prostitute. Recently a Maggie's outreach worker heard three separate collaborating accounts of an incident which occurred within the last month:

  • A native hustler near the downtown YMCA was assaulted by a police officer who had removed his badge number. The officer asked to see the hustler's ID and then threw it on the ground. When the hustler bent down to pick it up, the officer stepped on his hands. The officer hooked the nightclub under hustler's throat. The hustler asked, "Why are you doing this; I've been cooperative; I've done everything you've asked." He was told to shut up. One of his hands was broken.

This is just one more incident of police brutality against prostitutes that will go unreported. It is known on the street that any attempt to report a police officer will result in retaliation. The Report states that, "Inadequate consideration has been given to victims of police wrong-doing." (p. 6), we believe that this is true in part in the case of Jane Doe and Roma Langford because the victims were prostitutes. As long as prostitutes are vulnerable under the criminal justice system, they will rarely testify against an officer for misconduct, especially if that misconduct was assault. the bravery of these two women must be recognized. The criminality of prostitution contributes heavily to the inability of the police force to prosecute officers when dealing with prostitution-related incidents.

The Report states that, "approximately 95 per cent of the complaints that are reviewed by the force's complaint review officer, based on documentary evidence, result in no action." (p. 56). It is our belief that, because prostitutes are expendable within the justice system, complaints brought forward by prostitutes will continue result in no action. Steps need to be taken to ensure that action will be taken regardless of whether the victim is a prostitute or not.

Arrest is something prostitutes experience and fear in cases of extortion of sex and sexual assault by police officers. Recommendation 13 of the Report is designed to clarify and help define abuse of the power of arrest. We strongly support recommendation 13 of the Report.

Chapter 9 of the Report, "The Treatment of Victims" describes Jane Doe as being "twice victimized‹by the original offence and by the police disciplinary system." The chapter goes on to briefly describe three other incidents of possible cover-ups of police assaults against women. One needn't look back far in the press file to uncover such cases as that of "Mrs. F." or Robin Voce . The Metro Police department handling of the Jane Doe/Brian Whitehead affair documented by the report showed no respect for the safety, anonymity or protection of the victim.

Because prostitutes are stigmatized and vulnerable, they are most likely to wish to remain anonymous.There are problems keeping information and identity confidential even within the force because prostitutes are both legally vulnerable and visible on the street. There is the opportunity for intimidation and retaliation against the prostitute by police to protect a fellow officer. A prostitute who brought a complaint against an officer would be in constant fear of the police and ,wishing to remain anonymous, may want to forgo monitoring by the Public Complaints Commission. There is, therefore, immediate systemic intimidation from police to keep prostitutes from using the PCC. In cases with prostitutes, the vulnerability of the victim/witness is unacceptable if the public is to ensure its ability to bring charges for misconduct against an officer. We strongly support recommendation 14 of the Report.

The Report states that, "... the Police Complaints Commissioner had not been advised of 192 Internal Affairs investigations which qualified as public complaints" from 1984 to 1990. The reason provided by Internal Affairs was that they didn't notify if the cases involved criminal activities since the Police Act could not override the Criminal Code (p.52). Complaints of criminal offences brought forward against police officers should be charged under both the Criminal Code of Canada and The Police Act. We are relieved to hear that this has been rectified.

Complicity with police violence against prostitutes is pervasive not just within the Metro Police Force but throughout the justice system. In an interview with a Maggie's outreach worker, a prostitute described getting arrested and having the officer severely assault her. In court, when the judge asked her which officer had assaulted her, she replied, "I don't want to tell you which officer did it because I know that if I do you're going to give me time. Maybe if I don't tell you, you'll let me walk." The judge told her that he didn't want to see her in his courtroom again and he let her walk. The use of threats of prostitution-related conviction by the justice system, implied or otherwise, at the expense of the victim to protect individual police officers is clearly unacceptable.


  1. THAT every attempt be made to deal with incidents of police assaults against prostitutes through the Criminal Code of Canada and the The Police Act just like any case of assault which does not involve either a police officer or prostitute.

Violence Against Prostitutes and Community Response

Harassment of prostitutes on the street by residents, further isolates prostitutes from the rest of the community and keeps women from working together, a measure of safety. This kind of harassment also leaves little time for judgement before jumping into a client's vehicle, and leads to an increase in incidents of violence endured by prostitutes.

The police and the city should try to alleviate tensions between groups with positive rather then punitive initiatives. IV drug-users ditch dirty syringes because they fear they will be used by police to press drug charges. Drug treatment programme initiatives should be given full support, locked drop boxes for dirty syringes should be made readily available and there should be a public education campaign on how to dispose of dirty sharps.

The Church/Wellesley Community Foot Patrol experiment is an initiative in response to the Church/Wellesley community's complaints of hate-related violence in the area and problems with police response. Currently there are attempts to use the Church/Wellesley Community Patrol committee to mediate the concerns of residents and local prostitutes. More of these kinds of initiatives need to be explored and further developed.


  1. THAT complaints from residents concerning littering and noise be treated as such. Disturbing the peace charges for noise are usually preceded by a warning, public indecency and littering laws should not be used to target prostitutes but to solve directly the source of the resident's complaint.

  2. THAT the metro police force no longer press charges for narcotics traces in syringes.

  3. THAT the Metro Police Department initiate more community patrol projects along the Church/Wellesley Community Patrol model.


The staff collective at Maggie's, the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project fully support all the recommendations of the Report of an Inquiry into the administration of internal investigations by the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force, August 1992. This submission does not deal with the entire content of the recommendations of the Report but deals with points which are most within the interests of prostitutes. The prostitute community of Toronto admires and respects Roma Langford and in particular Jane Doe, who at great personal loss and fear for their lives came forward in the name of justice. Without either of them as witnesses the Report of the Inquiry would never have surfaced. We are grateful. Jane Doe, you are a heroine for prostitutes' rights in Canada.

The current situation between metro police and prostitutes can no longer be ignored. We realize that attitudes on the Metro Police force can't be changed over night, but we can set up mechanisms to monitor behaviour. The recommendations in this report are written as ideal solutions that are prostitute specific. We realize however, that the immediate mobilization on these recommendations may involve striking task forces and committees to study the feasibility and means of achieving the long term goals set out in this document. This document was prepared by Andrew Sorfleet in consultion with the rest of the the staff collective of Maggie's, the Toronto Prostitutes' Community Service Project.


Violence against prostitutes is not limited to women. Maggie's provides support for both men and women in the sex trade and the problems around police response to violence against prostitutes are similar for both genders. Transvestites, transsexuals and men are often subjected to hate-related violence. Improper response of police to reports of assaults on prostitutes is evident regardless of the gender of the complainant. Sexual assault is also not limited to women and it is inappropriate to consider women the only victims of sexual assaults.

More about Jane Doe... [Junger clippings] [Junger Inquiry Report] [Rights Groups]

Created: January 19, 1997
Last modified: August 16, 1999

Maggie's Maggie's
Box 82527, 422 Parliament St.
Toronto, ON M5A 4N8
Tel: +1 (416) 964-0150