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Why Street Prostitution Is Such a Serious Problem

I have never supported street work but only in private, consenting adult sexworkers.  Surprisingly when legal sex work is so easily available in Canada, there is still a huge street prostitution problem in many cities, including Montreal.Quebec, as well as other Canadian cities have well organized neighborhood groups. In Ottawa, The OTTAWA WEST "JOHN" SITE has a website that shows pictures of license plates and other information. They also have a very good article that states the problem very well:

Why is Street Prostitution a Problem?



Street prostitution is different from sex for money which occurs behind closed doors.  We are not interested in what anyone does in private, whether they pay for it or not.  The activity we are trying to stop is happening in public--on our streets, in our yards, parks, and schoolyards all over the City.

Street prostitution co-opts the street.  It turns a community into a place where women are for sale, rather than a place where people live and work.  It visibly labels communities as "bad" places.  It is not fair for people to come to our neighbourhoods to do something they and their neighbours would not tolerate where they live.

Most street prostitutes are injection drug users.  The johns are taking advantage of their desperation and exploiting them.  These women and girls need treatment and help, and the johns are not part of any solution.

Street prostitution leaves behind distasteful and dangerous trash.  In areas where street prostitution is active, used condoms are regularly found on public and private property.  The drug use that johns are helping to fund results in used syringes discarded on the streets.

There is a high incidence of HIV among injection drug users, and a high incidence of sexually-transmitted diseases among street prostitutes.  Johns are putting their families and the larger community at risk.

Johns cannot always tell who is a prostitute;  they just assume that any woman or girl in an area known to be a "stroll" is a prostitute.  Women and underage girls have often been solicited by johns in our communities in areas plagued by street prostitution.  Women and girls living in our neighbourhoods have the right to be free from harassment.The Deeper Issues Involved In Street Prostitution Not just in Canada but Everywhere
Sadly there will always be women who are desperate for money (often for drugs) and considering the risks they are already taking and the desperate situation they are often in, arresting the prostitutes is no solution.  They do this all the time in San Francisco but the cops now they will be out in 2 hours again.  They don't have the embarrassment factor that many John's would have. Fining them is really silly because the have to do more tricks just to pay the fine.  For some going to jail would be much more comfortable than living on the streets.   Of course not all street prostitutes are that bad off.   But when all she has to do is have a telephone,  and take out some advertising to be in business and attract clients, which (would be perfectly legal in Canada and most of the world),  it would seem only the most desperate would take the risks to be on the streets.  If she doesn't have a car to do outcall, incall from an apartment while illegal, the bawdy house restrictions are in most Canadian cities, only enforced in cases of excess neighbor complaints about traffic, drugs, or illegal aliens working, while street work is enforced at a very high rate in most cities, since it is such a nuisance problem.

In Vancouver where they had so many murders of street prostitutes they even proposed to give the street hookers cell phones so they could all the police!Sadly arresting street prostitution simply makes the women's problem worse.  She is less likely to find a job if she has an arrest record for prostitution for example.   She is a victim, caught up in the street life.  The John's didn't create the situation but they are feeding it, but continuing to encourage women to work on the streets as long as there are customers.In Canada street prostitution violates the "communications" law of the Canadian Criminal Code.  But it is a very minor summary offense with only a small fine.   What if the penalties were as severe as in some cities in the U.S.. such as confiscation of the John's car, just like in drug arrest cases, and even jail times.Many U.S. cities have "john schools" for first time offenders.  Often I think these are silly with all the upset women who get emotional how sexwork ruined their lives and how they are such victims.  I believe in personal responsibility not blame.  But for men arrested for in private sexwork lumping them in with the street hookers and johns is simply ridiculous, since the issues or so different.  In private sexworkers who choose sexwork as a wholesome, healthy option out of choice, not desperation should have the right to do so (as they do in Canada and most of the world, outside the U.S.).   But street prostitution infringes on others rights to have neighborhoods without condoms in the streets and women safe from being solicited and children not have to see half naked women in front of their homes. Many think this is too tough on John's but the only solution it seems to the street prostitution problem is far greater legal risk for the John to encourage him to go to the many legal sexwork options available in Canada.I have wondered for years why finding street prostitutes is so desired by Canadians vs. the legal ways of sexwork.  From reading many posts of those that seek street hookers, it seems to be its the thrill, the risk, the excitement that seems to motivate many Johns. Or, it is economics since street sex is often far cheaper than with a private professional sexworker.  And finally, the johns also often want services without a condom and the street prostitutes are more willing to acquiesce to this request whereas in brothels such things are absolutely illegal in most of the world where brothels are legal.  Almost all private sexworkers are very careful about safe sex and few would ever consider not using a condom. But if you make it more legally risky, like in the U.S. they may think twice about soliciting street hookers.Again while I am so upset with the U.S. laws making criminals for those involved in private, consenting adult sexwork, I am equally supportive of community efforts to get "in your face" public sexwork eliminated.

Two Possibly Better Solutions Than Just Going After Johns

1- Special zones for street prostitution.  This has worked well in some European countries where areas are set aside for street prostitution.  Some are secluded areas away from residential neighborhoods, but with police protection, areas for "viewing" and turnout areas to meet and pick up your women of choice, and private areas to go to for sex.   That seems to be a practical solution with the police making sure everyone is safe.  The problem is the "not in my neighborhood" problem of where to locate such areas.  But they could be tucked away in commercial areas and work effectively.In fact in Quebec (Montreal is in Quebec for those Canadian challenged:) )Mac Harb, a Member of Parliament wants to pass some of the responsibility for prostitution related legislation to municipalities. This would allow municipalities to designate "red-light" districts where prostitution would be away from "family oriented" neighborhoods.  It's aimed at curing the problem of having the cops saturate an area, make solicitation arrests and then having the street sexworkers move to another area and the battle between hookers and a new neighborhood starts over again.  The red-light districts could solve the problem.  I assume they would somehow be designated as "private" areas just for Johns and prostitutes, so they don't violate the Canadian Criminal Code public solicitation restrictions. I am not clear if the proposal is for street areas or brothels...2- Legal small brothels run by the women, not a pimp or the government where women share expenses, work in a safe environment in discrete locations.  The issue is again the "Not in my neighborhood" problem.  But certainly commercial areas could be found in most cities for such brothels.    If expenses are simply shared their probably is no violation of the "living off the avails" restriction in Canadian as well as most European laws.   In the U.S. our culture just isn't mature enough for these options and the religious right the forces its views which are best for us, they say, would sadly prevent these practical solutions in the U.S.   In fact in Quebec (Montreal is in Quebec for those Canadian challenged:) )Mac Harb, a Member of Parliament wants to pass some of the responsibility for prostitution related legislation to municipalities. This would allow municipalities to designate "red-light" districts for brothels,  where prostitution would be away from "family oriented" neighborhoods.  It's aimed at curing the problem of having the cops saturate an area, make solicitation arrests and then having the street sexworkers move to another area and the battle between hookers and a new neighborhood starts over again.  June 2000 - OTTAWA (CP) -- A Bloc Quebecois MP is pushing the idea of legalizing prostitution. Real Menard, who has drawn up a private member's bill proposing government-regulated brothels, said Friday legalizing and controlling prostitution would help prevent violence toward sex workers and help clean up the streets.  "Obviously we hope it would reduce street prostitution," said Menard.  "It would also allow us to have some regulation in as much as it would be the attorney general who grants the licence."  Regulating the industry could keep the sex trade out of residential areas, he said.  The Bloc calls its plan a starting point to get people talking.  Fellow Bloc member Pierrette Venne said her primary concern is the safety of women.  The party says if Canadians reject the idea, it will drop it. If they support the project, the Bloc would introduce a bill in the Commons.  A similar proposal by Liberal Mac Harb would let municipalities decide whether to legalize the sex trade.  Menard said he based his proposal on an Australian model.   Note, when they say legalize prostitution, they mean establishing safer more private ways for the street prostitute to work. Prostitution is already legal in all of Canada, its the restrictions against street prostitution (public) that enforcement hasn't  solved the problems. The problem is he is very vague on just how this further legalization would occur.   As I understand Canadian law, based on what Canadians that seem to know have told me, a city can't ease restrictions that are in the Criminal Code.  HOWEVER, just like Montreal doesn't enforce the agency restrictions (living of the avals) cities could it seems just decide not to enforce certain restrictions of the criminal code.It is interesting that some Canadian legislators are trying to make prostitution more available in Canada, in the U.S. more and more restrictions on strip clubs, outlawing swing clubs etc., is occurring to appease a religious agenda. In the U.S., it's a moral issue. The religious right (oxymoron) seeks to deny others the right to make their own choices.  The religious right claims it knows what is best of all!   In Canada, the law  and its enforcement is more concerned with solving problems such as keeping sexwork private, not on the streets and  protecting people from exploitation. 

Australia has some experience with brothels trying to eliminate street prostitution, but the problem is that the brothels were run by those exploiting the sexworkers taking too much of their earnings and treating them poorly.   As one article pointed out:Women working in legal brothels have to submit to "house rules" which includes the operators taking 60 percent of all client fees and some have been asked for money up-front for employment in brothels., Owners have increased their profits by imposing a system of fines for various misdemeanours such as lateness, not shaving legs and not having matching nail polish on fingers and toes. . . . Because the emphasis is on invisibility rather than safe, desirable working conditions, prostitutes must choose between a form of indentured servitude and working illegally. Since in many ways illegal prostitution is actually safer and healthier than publicly sanctioned brothels many prostitutes sensibly choose to work illegally. This infers that even were there enough legal brothels to employ the entire prostitute population, unless the working conditions are reasonable, illegal prostitution will continue to flourish.. For prostitutes and non prostitutes to come to an agreement over how they may effectively interact seems to require that prostitutes rights and safety be viewed as interests which are in harmony rather than in tension with public interests for an orderly, prosperous community.   Source: Prostitution in Canada: The Invisible Menace or the Menace of Invisibility? Directed research by: Sylvia Daviswith professor: Martha Shaffer(c) 1994 at  (No I don't have Canada and Australia confused, the discussion of prostitution in Canada uses the Australian situation in its discussion!)

In Australia the more recently enacted Prostitution Control Act does help by restricting what brothel owners can do so they can no longer take advantage of sexworkers as much as in the past.  But the issues of the 1994 article are still relevant.Yet another problem is that most of the women working as streetwalkers do so because they have drug habits to support. What brothel owner or co-op of prostitutes would hire a drug addict when other "cleaner" sexworkers are available. So more brothels might not get the drugged out hooker off the streets.  Or, one that is HIV infected or has STDs etc. Also the brothel issue is more complex in Canada since a city cannot decide to make something legal which is illegal under the criminal code.  So it would seem no one can be making any money "off the avails" including a brothel owner.  But if its a co-op of sexworkers sharing expenses?  I am not a law expert by any means.  But if the cities want to solve the street problem by brothels they should be able to find a way to do it legally.  Hopefully its not the government owning the brothels!Montreal Wants To Cooperate With Street Sexworkers!
From CBS News on-line Canada
Tue Jun 22,1999

MONTREAL- Montreal and its prostitutes should co-operate, says panel - After two years of studying prostitution in Montreal, a panel of experts has recommended the city quit trying to regulate the sex trade through the courts. It wants police and prostitutes working in downtown Montreal to co-operate to solve problems of violence, rather than treating each other as enemies. 

The report says prostitution is being driven further into the shadows since a police crackdown began 15 years ago. Prostitution tends to flourish in neighbourhoods of chronic poverty and jail cells do nothing to prevent it, says the report. 

The task force wants police and community workers to patrol together Montreal's high prostitution areas. If problems arise between citizens and the sex-trade workers, the team will encourage people to meet and to take responsibility to solve their differences. 

The Montreal Police Department likes the plan, saying it will allow police to get along better with the prostitutes and will open the door to allow the women to report robberies or rapes. 

The proposal is also being welcomed by a coalition of sex workers because it treats prostitutes as members of a community. A woman who simply wants to be called "Anna Louise," says Montreal prostitutes believe this new approch will make the streets safer. 

"We're open to it, not because we think it will be fully effective, but because the situation we're in now is incredibly dangerous for sex workers." 

The plan for more co-operation between police and prostitutes still has to clear the political hurdles at Montreal City Council. But with police themselves supporting it, observers expect little opposition"But their was a very negative response to the proposal.  Here is a later follow-up article with another idea:
Brothel idea deserves a look
The Montreal Gazette
Wednesday 22 March 2000

In response to the fiasco of the Bourque administration's prostitution reform, the opposition chief is proposing another idea. Michel Prescott wants legalization of brothels. 

Every decade or so, a lone elected official pops up to make that same seemingly eccentric suggestion. In the 1980s, it was Filippo Salvatore, an N.D.G. city councillor and Concordia professor. In the 1990s, it was Marc-Yvan Cote, the Bourassa government's health minister. Each time, other politicians have run for cover, leaving the advocate looking like some odd Don Quixote. Receiving more smirks than debate, the idea vanishes from view. 

If that were to happen this time with Prescott, it would be too bad. The idea carries respectable non-patriarchal credentials. In 1984, the federal Advisory Council on the Status of Women endorsed the notion of brothels of no more than three female or male prostitutes. A year later, Ottawa's Fraser commission on prostitution, a panel on which feminists were represented, made the same instantly ignored recommendation. Yet much of Europe has no qualms about even larger operations. Germany, Holland and some Swiss cantons, for example, have set aside zones for brothels. 

Prescott's plan would follow the European model. Presumably, the brothels would be in industrial areas far from residential neighbourhoods. 

Look at Europe 

I don't know if the idea is a sound one. To make an informed judgment, it would be important to know how legalization has worked in Europe, and information on this - even among local criminologists who support the idea - is sketchy. Still, at least in theory, the idea has a lot to recommend it: 

- A legal red-light zone in an isolated part of town would draw many prostitutes off residential streets. 

- The zone could lessen the role of pimps and organized crime. In Amsterdam, a law going into effect Oct. 1 will set up a non-profit corporation to buy buildings and lease them to brothel operators who pass security checks. 

- The spread of disease would certainly diminish. To keep their licenses, prostitutes would have to submit to regular medical examinations. 

- The sort of violence that flourishes against freelance prostitutes in lonely locales would also recede. 

- Economic exploitation of prostitutes would more difficult. Today, some street prostitutes give much - and sometimes most - of their earnings to pimps. Yet when Zurich's first legal brothel opened two years ago, newspapers reported that prostitutes paid management about $110 a day for use of the premises and pocketed their earnings, which for a standard trick came to $55. 

- On this income, they'd pay taxes - and, in return, get social benefits. 

Although that picture is rosy, important questions remain. 

One is whether legalization would bring a big hike in prostitution - and attendant social problems as happened with gambling's legalization. It would be useful to know what happened in Europe. 

Before legalizing a traditional vice, it's important to assess the probable effect on children. Seen in that light, legalizing drugs would - even if they were to remain banned to minors - be very risky. If adults could consume drugs in public, an important taboo against them would fall, and it would be even harder for parents to discourage their use. If, even more than today, drugs became a perceived badge of adulthood, it would be tougher to keep kids from them. Think cigarettes. 

Yet legalizing brothels might have the opposite effect. Today, thousands of underage Montreal teens of both sexes sell their bodies. If the legal brothels could employ only adults, and if these brothels acquired a reputation for satisfying their customers, there would be fewer johns on the street. While the market for kids would never dry up, wouldn't it shrink considerably? Again, what has been Europe's experience? 

Federal law handles prostitution (it doesn't ban it, but it prohibits solicitation). If, however, Ottawa were to delegate prostitution to the provinces, as the Fraser panel proposed, Quebec could legislate as it pleased, detaching its policies from those of more conservative provinces. 

Prescott has raised a useful issue. It's impossible to eliminate the world's oldest profession, but Montreal can deal with it much more intelligently. This is one time when it might not be such a scandal for officials to visit the fleshpots of Europe.  Another Newspaper Published View:
Street Scene  It goes without saying ?
ELIZABETH BROMSTEIN Freelance Writer The Montreal Gazette

This week I wanted to write about the abandoned plan to halt prostitution arrests in certain areas of Montreal. The idea was to stop arresting hookers in a couple of places in the city and replace the bad cops with good cops and social workers. The plan was shut down when an angry mob of residents protested that such a plan would bring to their neighbourhood crime, unsavoury characters, used syringes etc. 

Of course, street prostitution brings all of those thing to an area and more. 

I wait for the bus every day at the corner of St. Laurent Blvd. and Ste. Catherine St., and I often marvel at how so many scary freaks and so much grossness are packed into a two-block radius. But what I have chosen not to point that out because it is so obvious is that the law against prostitution is what causes all this. We have forced prostitutes and their clientele underground and removed their dignity, so what kind of people do we expect them to become or to attract? 

This is so archaic and silly that I cannot write about it because I know that the average reader with an IQ over 65 knows how ridiculous this law is.

I refuse to point out that everybody needs sex and that not everyone can get it. I refuse to discuss what removing someone's dignity and treating her as less than human can do to a person. (I loved last week's headline about the "hooker control" plan. What are they, stray dogs? Why don't we just send them to the pound?) I refuse to be the one to make the self-evident argument that what we need is a change in the law and not some plan to "manifest good relations" between hookers and society. Or that hookers are a part of society and deserve to be treated as such rather than as parasites.