Tuesday, May 4, 1999

Lori Culbert

p. B1.

Child prostitutes' pimps targeted

Police hope arrests of pimps and johns will double under changes to the Criminal Code.

A Vancouver police vice officer hopes that changes to the Criminal Code making it easier to arrest pimps and customers preying on children will double the number of charges being laid.

"The message is: 'Get out of town because we're coming after you,'" Sergeant Don Smith said Monday.

In Vancouver last year, police arrested about 15 men for either buying sex fro prostitutes younger than 18 or for being their pimps. As a result of last week's changes to the Criminal Code, he hopes to double that number this year.

"We have a very serious juvenile prostitution problem. We have noticed in the last couple of years that the actual age of girls when they are first turned out on the street is decreasing," Smith said, estimating the age has dropped to 13 from 15.

"A lot of that has to do with the active recruitment that is taking place in the schools and the shopping malls."

As of last Saturday, it became a crime to even communicate with children or youth for the purposes of buying sex.

Before, Section 212(4) of the Criminal Code said a person must obtain or attempt to obtain sex from a person under 18 before a law is broken. Typically, that mean police had to wait at least until the prostitute and customer agreed on a price for sex before an arrest is made.

p. B3.

New law makes wiretaps easier

Smith said lowering the requirements to communicating will make it easier for police to use wiretaps to go after pimps, and may reduce the need for young prostitutes to appear in court.

The change in legislation will make it "as unattractive as possible for those people who prey on juveniles," but Smith noted more services are desparately needed to help juveniles with addictions and other problems.

On the weekend, Attorny-General Ujjal Dosanjh said B.C. has repeatedly lobbied the federal government to make the changes to the Criminal Code.

The provincial prostitution unit has laid 50 charges related to child prostitution since it was started in 1996, and has helped police lay about 100 more related charges across B.C.

Vancouver's so-called kiddie stroll was near Clark and Hastings in the Downtown Eastside, but Smith said young prostitutes are now branching out.

"There's no area of the city that is immune from the prostitution problem."

Smith said other Lower Mainland municipalities either have working underage prostitutes as Vancouver does, or are being targeted by pimps doing recruitment. "There's no community that's immune from this problem."

Smith's aim to double the number of arrests will depend on officers, "who are stretched to the limits" being made available for sweeps. The vice unit has 10 investigators, but they are often borrowed by other departments to help with high-profile crimes, he said.

In the meantime, Dosanjh said he will continue to ask Ottawa to raise the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14.

Smith supports the move because he said 14-year-old girls are often seduced by so-called boyfriends, who then turn them into prostitutes.

Dosanjh also announced on the weekend $75,000 in funding for DISC (Deter and Identify Sex-trade Consumers), a computer system used to track pimps, customers and prostitutes.

The money will be used to speed up computer links to 14 other police agencies in western Canada and the United States that participate in the program, said Vancouver police Detective Constable Oscar Ramos, who initiated DISC.

He said software will be improved so police can send out pictures and details aabout a missing young prostitute the day after she disappears.

"They'll have information on the pimp, boyfriend, vehicles involved," Ramos said.

That can be crucial because many pimps have a pattern of taking new recruits to different cities to avoid detection and charges.

Ramos estimated 10 more police agencies may join DISC.

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Created: August 8, 1999
Last modified: June 11, 2001
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