Thurday, November 12, 1998 No. 137

Tom Yeung

Critics trash john school idea

Prostitutes charge they're picked on by residents and police

A proposed "john school" program targetting customers of male prostitutes gets a mixed review from sex trade workers and their advocates.

Sgt. Wayne Holland of the Vancouver police says a Vancouver john school will be open by the spring of 1999. Right now the police are still planning curriculum and consulting community groups.

John schools are an alternative punishment for men arrested for communicating for the purposes of prostitution. In exchange for not getting charged with criminal offence, johns take a course on the negative effects of the sex trade.

Holland, head of the police planning and research department, says john schools only address the small part of the overall problem. But they do address "community concerns" about street prostitution and making clients aware of fuelling abusive relationships in the sex trade.

Xtra West has learned the Yaletown Community Police office has been involved in discussions surrounding the Vancouver john school.

Holland says a john school for male clients of male prostitutes in the "Boystown" area is a possibility.

"It's one of the things we've earmarked for research and consideration, that's for sure," says Holland.

Activist Jamie Lee Hamilton, who runs the Grandma's House drop-in for prostitutes, says the john school can serve to further victimize prostitutes by taking away their source of income.'

"Any time you take away from a sex worker it creates hardship. Sex workers are there becuae they have no other options."

Prostitute David Cioffi says john schools will not solve any problems. He says the police unfairly target his clients, who prefer to buy sex off the street rather than from ads. Business has been bad enough for Cioffi. He says some nights there are no clients and he starves.

He feels Boystown is over-policed anyway. He says friends of his have been detained by police just for picking him and other hustlers up in their cars.

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada. It only becomes a crime of the police catch a client talking about exchanging money for sex in a public place.

"If the police will not leave our clientele alone, or if they do not catch in the act of money being transferred, they should leave us the hell alone," says Cioffi.

City hall has previously been criticized for collecting heavy taxes from escort agencies while simultaneously harassing street prostitutes. City hall has also rebuffed all sorts of efforts to establish a red light district or licenced brothels, which proponents say would provide safety to prostitutes while controlling the industry.

There has been a spate of complaints against prostitutes made by recently arrived residents of the rapidly developing Yaletown district. At an October community meeting at the Roundhouse to discuss noise and bar traffic, concerns about prostitution were also raised. Gay politicians Gordon Price and Tim Stevenson attended the meeting.

MLA Stevenson says area residents are concerned about noise -- with some of the prostitutes fighting or yelling at each other -- and condoms left lying around. But he's against any attempt to force prostitutes out of the neighbourhood.

"I think we have to deal with that, and respect the boys and have them understand there are people that are concerned about condoms and noise."

Although prostitution was a only minor concerns raised at the October meeting, some Yaletown residents have reportedly attempted to solve the problem themselves.

According to Andrew Barker, coordinator of the Man To Man outreach program at AIDS Vancouver, some male prostitutes are reporting harassment from area residents.

"They say some people are very nice, but some people will come, if they're drunk or something, and will try to physically remove them from the stroll."

Prostitute Chris Jacobs says he sometimes gets harassed by older men and women, who don't fit the traditional mold of a gaybasher. He believes they are Yaletown residents.

"They pull up and say get out of this neighbourhood, don't work this side of the street, don't go cruising my car.

"That's why this stick is here with the nail in it," he says, showing off the broken fence post he keeps for protection.

Jacobs says john schools are a "retarded idea" but on the up side he says the program will keep good members of the gay community from having criminal records.

Barker says john schools might be a good way of raising money for support programs for sex trade workers. In some models the fees paid by clients for the school go directly to support programs after expenses.

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Created: November 13, 1998
Last modified: August 27, 1999

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