Wednesday, February 28, 2001 7:24 AM EST

Rod Mickleburgh

Vancouver not a prostitution haven: police

VANCOUVER — Local police scrambled Tuesday to defend Vancouver against suggestions it has become a hot spot for child-sex tourists, after the discovery of an 11-year-old prostitute working city streets.

"I don't see us as sin city," said Detective Constable Raymond Payette of the Vancouver Police Department's vice squad.

"We're out there every day, and I don't think Vancouver's any worse per capita than Calgary or Saskatoon when it comes to child prostitution. To think that people come here just to get sex from kids…it doesn't happen," Det. Constable Payette said.

A recent international report, however, alleged that child-sex tourism is a growing problem in Vancouver.

The report by End Child Prostitution, Pornography and Trafficking, sponsored by the European Union, blamed increased numbers of homeless children, the city's proximity to Asian child-sex hot spots and information on the Internet about Vancouver's child-sex trade.

Street workers in Vancouver also said there is no shortage of customers, many from out of town, for underage prostitutes.

"It's not new to have young girls selling sex on the street," said Raven Bowen, project co-ordinator for Prostitution Alternative Counselling and Education.

"They have the highest earning potential of any girls on the street. They can make quite a living here."

Ms. Bowen said Vancouver isn't any better or worse than other Canadian cities where child prostitution exists.

"But we're on the Pacific Rim and it's warm and beautiful. So people come here anyway. Then, if they can buy sex with a young girl, it's a bonus. This is quite the spot right now."

John Turvey of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society said Vancouver is a long way from the youngster-ridden brothels of East Asia.

"But we are seeing younger kids brought into the business by younger pimps, and I'm sure people come here from other countries to buy that kind of sex. You can find out about it on the Internet."

Debate swirled after widespread shock and outrage over the case of the 11-year-old prostitute, who was brought to the city from Portland, Ore., last week, beaten and plied with stimulants to keep her working.

She spent four days working Vancouver's so-called "kiddie stroll" on the city's east side, earning nearly $1,000, before police picked her up.

Local police say she is the youngest street prostitute they have ever encountered.

Two men and a woman from Portland are to appear in Provincial Court Wednesday, charged with a string of offences, including abduction, assault, living off the avails of prostitution and sexual interference with someone under 14.

Portland police officials say the individuals may face further charges there, if they come back to the city. The young girl, who cannot be identified, has been returned to her foster parents in Portland.

RCMP Corporal Gerry Peters of the provincial prostitution unit said he has yet to hear of tourists coming to Vancouver specifically to have sex with young prostitutes.

"But there are men out there, I call them preferential child molesters, who prefer a particular age group. It's hard to think there isn't something wrong with them."

Det. Constable Payette said he thinks the number of young prostitutes on Vancouver streets is actually decreasing.

"I hate that term 'kiddie stroll.' It makes it seem as if there are large numbers of kids lined up on the street. That's just not the case. Sometimes, it's hard to find even one."

But Ms. Bowen said most child prostitution takes place off the street in so-called trick pads.

"There's a real sick, crazy market out there. Who are they? Unfortunately society is not ready to know that. They're everybody. From school teachers to construction workers."

Mr. Turvey blamed police for not cracking down harder on Vancouver's child-sex trade.

He said many charges are laid against johns seeking older prostitutes, but few against those buying sex from underage sex workers.

"We need real, hard-assed, meat-and-potatoes law enforcement. These are our kids and what's going on is disgusting. Yet we literally don't seem to care."

However, police say it is difficult to prosecute individuals for involvement with young prostitutes. Undercover operations that snare many normal johns are not possible when targets are as young as 14. And it is rare that a young girl will be willing to testify against pimps or her customers.

Det. Constable Payette said Vancouver's vice squad has had a great success with its innovative DISC (Deter and Identify Sex-trade Consumers) computer-data program that shares information with other cities on customers, pimps and young prostitutes.

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Created: March 2, 2001
Last modified: March 3, 2001
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