"Pimps" and "Predators"
February 19, 1996

A letter to Janet Steffenhagen,
City Editor, Vancouver Sun

On February 18, the Vancouver Sun announced that the Vancouver Police Department has decided to stop charging prostitutes ("Policy not to arrest prostitutes first in Canada", p. B1). The Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver applauds the move to stop arresting pros. However this decision is based on the patronizing premise that all prostitutes are victims and it comes with a plan to arrest our clients, business partners and lovers.

If Inspector Ken Doern sees sex workers as "already being victimized," then he is denying the reality that most of us are capable and competent to make a conscious decision to work in this business. We don't deny that there are people working in the sex trade who really don't want to be. Some are even grappling with a debilitating drug habit. Usually, though, it is the lack of viable alternatives that keeps them there.

Trying to starve these prostitutes off the streets by targetting their clients is inhumane. How are these people supposed to survive once this source of income is taken away? It would be smarter to make programs such as employment counselling, skills development workshops and drug treatment available for all who need them. Arresting clients and "pimps" is little more than a moral crusade thinly disguised by the misconception that sex workers need to be "rescued," with or without their consent.

Not only is the job illegal, prostitutes' personal lives are under scrutiny by police. Canada's Criminal Code doesn't actually define "pimping." Police use Section 212, which prohibits "procuring a person; exercising control, direction or influence, aiding, abetting or compelling such person to engage in prostitution, and living on the avails." Technically it's illegal to work for, live with, or even associate with a prostitute. It's even a crime to drive a prostitute to work. Men charged under this law are often the husbands or boyfriends of prostitutes, and the fathers of their kids.

Escort service managers are also vulnerable under Section 212. However, the City of Vancouver issues escort service licences and escorts are required to register with the vice squad and pay a nominal annual fee. Ironically, you can't get a licence to be an escort if you have a criminal record for a prostitution-related offence. The vice squad provides no services in return for these professional dues -- unless you count the ability to identify you if you happen to wind up dead. If escort services need to be licensed, it should be by a professional trades association, not by a police department. What a conflict of interest!

Frankly, if a woman wants to give her money to her man or to her manager, that's her own business. Prostitutes, like everyone else, deserve the right to have sex and relationships, and to manage our money and our lives as we choose. We don't need "pimping" laws to protect us from abusive or exploitive relationships; we already have legal recourse. Labour laws should be used when workers are exploited by their bosses. Violence in prostitutes' personal relationships should be handled the same way spouse-abuse is for anybody.

If a prostitute is beaten, threatened or blackmailed then charges under laws that prohibit these crimes should be laid. But when a prostitute approaches the police for help in these situations, she is encouraged to "sign" on her man for "pimping," rather than enforcing the laws against assault, extortion and uttering threats. This suggests that the justice system considers these offences less serious than the "crime" of being in a relationship with a prostitute.

Doern says he firmly believes that customers are "predators." But clients are prostitutes' livelihood. Real "predators" are men who pretend to be clients in order to rape, beat and/or rob prostitutes. They target prostitutes because they know that we can't go to the police and that police don't take our allegations and injuries seriously. Police and court officials think prostitutes don't make credible witnesses. They refuse to pursue our charges because we "won't show up for court."

This attitude pervades the justice system across the country. It has been documented time and time again. In a 1993 submission to the Metro Toronto Police Services Board a service agency reported several incidents from its Bad Trick Sheet where police refused to take assault reports. Here's just one example:

"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."

The attitude in the justice system toward prostitutes was shockingly demonstrated yet again in Regina on January 30, when Justice Ted Malone handed out six-and-a-half-year sentences to two men for beating Pamela George to death. During the trial, in his charge to the jury, Justice Malone said that it would be "dangerous" to convict the young men of first-degree murder (which carries a life sentence with no parole for 25 years) because Ms. George "was indeed a prostitute." These men will be eligible for parole in 40 months.

How does this encourage prostitutes to help police catch perpetrators of violence? Last year in Toronto, three prostitutes were murdered by the same gun within a few hours. In Vancouver, on Februrary 14, a hundred and fifty people joined in the 6th Annual Women's Memorial March to remember 118 women from the Downtown Eastside who died violent deaths since 1986, including 20 in the last year.

In this context it is callous, patronizing and hypocritical for the Vancouver Police Department to suggest that by pursuing "johns" and "pimps" they will rescue prostitutes. It's not prostitution that we are victims of. Perhaps if police and court officials and politicians put aside their prejudice long enough to listen to what we have to say, they might actually come to understand our point of view.


Andrew Sorfleet, Raigen D'Angelo
for the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver

CC: The Mayor and City Counsellors,
Chief Constable, Vancouver Police Department


News clippings... [Whore Wars] [SWAV Letters] [Rights Groups]

Created: February 18, 1997
Last modified: March 6, 1999
SWAV Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710
Email: swav@walnet.org