July 25 - August 1, 1996. Vol. 30 No. 1492

Charlie Smith

p. 7

Critics Say School for Johns Doesn't Make the Grade

A Downtown Eastside youth worker and an academic who studies prostitution have ripped into Vancouver Coun. Lynne Kennedy's proposal for a school for customers of street prostitutes. "John School be damned -- I'd rather see them go to prison for buying kids," said John Turvey, executive director of the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society.

Some Fraser University criminologist John Lowman was equally critical. "It takes the hypocrisy of Canadian prostitution law to new heights," he said. One of the effects is to channel prostitution into escort services, where the city generates ravenue [through business licences]."

At the July 23 council meeting, Kennedy asked police chief Ray Canuel to prepare a report that analyzes the costs of creating a john school similar to those in other cities. Kennedy told the Straight that she learned about the details of those schools from a Calgary police vice-squad officer at a recent Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. "The detective I talked to said it was quite moving," she said.

Kennedy said that the one-day "curriculum" at the Calgary school includes lectures from health department officials about sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, the johns hear from community representatives who discuss teh havoc caused in their neighbourhoods by prostitution. Then, parents of prostitutes talk about the impact the sex trade has had on their family life. That's followed by a presentation by former prostitutes, and then a forensic psychologist discusses what steps johns can take in the future to avoid buying sex from prostitutes.

"They're comprehensive courses Kennedy said. She added that if the program gets under way in Vancouver, men who are arrested for buying sex from street prostitutes might be given the option of dismissing the charge.

"We need some education, not only of the johns, but also of the judges," Kennedy said, referring to the large number of unconditional discharges given to men who are charged with buying sex.

Prostitution is legal in Canada, but it's illegal to buy sex in placaes open to public view. Lowman said that when men are charged with paying for sex in public places, they rarely reoffend. He can't understand why Kennedy would want to make it easier for men to avoid being charged when the law has proven to be effective when it's enforced.

Lowman said 48 sex-trade workers were murdered in B.C. between 1988 and 1995, and he feels city coundil would be wise to devote its energy toward addressing this situation rather than gfaining "political mileage out of prostitution".

Turvey echoed Lowman's points, saying the solution rate is 25 percent lower for sex-trade workers who are murdered in the general population. Turvey said if city council is serious about reducing prostitution, it would promote programs that help women and children exit the sex trade.

He also called on city council to lobby the provincial government to implement chief coroner Vince Cain's recommendations contained in his 1995 report on heroin overdose deaths. Those recommendations included decriminalizing hard drugs and legalizing soft drugs like marijuana.

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Created: August 2, 1996
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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