POLICE STING to TARGET JOHNS TROUBLING
POLICE STING to TARGET JOHNS TROUBLING
The recent announcement by the Vancouver Police Department to target Downtown Eastside (DE) customers of sex workers and charge them with a criminal offense is not carefully thought out. In turn, this action will result in creating further harm to sex workers, communities and customers alike and whoever devised this haphazard plan has to answer many questions.
The police rational to re-think the prostitution issue has taken on another perspective. They believe if they criminalize the male customers this will minimize some problem. Quite incorrectly, the police, premise their opinion by claiming that ALL Downtown Eastside Sex Workers are drug users and consequently the men who avail themselves of this type of Sex Worker, are ALL criminals. This paints a picture of all women as being the victims and all Men as being the victimizers.... This results in the police employing a one-size-fits-all mentality to fix what they see as the problem. As history has shown, this only exacerbates further harm and tragedy.
The police also conveniently ignore statistics showing that only 10-15% of sex workers in the DE are drug addicted (Prof John Lowman, the Fraser Committee and Prof Cecilia Benoit). The vast majority of women who prostitute in the DE are aboriginal, single moms, low wage earners, artists, abused women and others who have worked as sex workers for many years. The reasons why sex workers are sex workers are varied and often complex. Drug addiction is usually a symptom and not the root cause of why a women or male chooses to engage in sex work.
To say, as the police do, that women become sex workers due to drug addiction is troubling. It again re-enforces that the police do not understand the dynamics of the sex trade and really shouldn't be the ones trying to address the societal problems (real or perceived) it may bring. Primarily and historically the police implemented enforcement techniques to curtail prostitution and this hasn't worked. Now their perspective has changed to that of the street level sex worker being an exploitation issue. They do qualify their opinions by saying the male customers are to blame and this needs to be rectified.
While the police are to be commended for their apparent concern regarding women in the Downtown Eastside who are drug addicted and hence, their involvement in what is called the survival sex trade, the police are neglectful in considering what the ramifications of their proposed actions may bring.
While it is indeed sad that a percentage of sex workers are drug misuser's, it is equally tragic to think that selective enforcement of prostitution will produce any measurable positive results for this population. Again, the police seem to be focused on the symptom rather than root causes of prostitution.
In fact, previous attempts to address the prostitution issue through law enforcement has created untold harm to far too many women. One only has to recall how many lost lives came as a result of the reckless behavior of the police and City officials by pushing the sex trade into dark, deserted, unsafe areas. Their sole focus was on the sex worker and this created horrendous problems. The police and politicians will forever have to shoulder this monkey on their back. However, for them to again engage in dereliction of duty by employing another law enforcement measure rather than a safety, security and liberty approach is wilful to the extreme.
Implementation of their sting operation, will require the police to deploy attractive female police officers who will bear no resemblance to drug addicted sex workers. To snare men who may or may not be potential customers will become somewhat tricky. As many active sex workers can attest, the men who drive around low track and high track appear to be voyeurs who often do not stop to engage the services of sex workers. They obtain some thrill just by driving around. Or perhaps, they may, if married, be feeling guilt or remorse. Whether they are predators or victimizers is probably less than 1%. It seems that society would be far better off, if the police found ways of trageting men who exploit our children and youth since Youth exploitation is a criminal offense. Vice squads might also spend scarce resources in prevention measures rather than reactive ploys. They could start by addressing the proliferation of child pornography in our city.
As mentioned, the police will deploy their female officers, having them pose as prostitutes. As they have done in the past, these female officers will dress it up in order to look convincing as prostitutes. This then begs the question of police having an awkward belief of what a sex worker looks like. What the police are doing in the strongest sense is affirming the mistaken impression that all sex workers look alike. Therefore they must all be the same. This has a com-modifying affect and one assumes that the police know that exploitation has as its partner, com-modification. And for the police to act in this manner raises ethical concerns.
If you drive the stroll you will see a variety of working girls and their attire varies widely. If you talk to any of the girls, you will find a variety of emotions. No two girls are alike. Quite offensive though is that the police think we are. This displays lack of foresight around understanding this issue and consequently the police are mudding the waters. Their outdated textbook of how best to address this moral issue hasn't changed.
What the police haven't taken into consideration is the sex worker will know when the police sting is in operation. As a result they will move away from the targeted area. This creates displacement of the sex worker and customer. Shuffling the sex trade around does not mean Men (the customers) will suddenly disappear. They will find the girls in other areas as they always have. Police have not factored into their plan, that dispersment of the sex trade will have dire consequences for other neighborhoods. Areas which may not have had sex strolls will see the emergence of sex workers in their communities. Businesses will be upset upon hearing of sex workers in their midst, previously when they had very few, if any. Children from these family neighborhoods will quite sadly bear witness to this fact.
While many men in society do not engage the services of sex workers, an equal number do. Customers of sex workers are not usually bad people. They come from good homes, many have stellar reputations, are intelligent, hold dowwn good jobs and provide for their families and children. For a multitude of reasons their liaising with prostitutes occurs. The majority are not predators nor criminals. If you ask them whether they are exploiting sex workers, they would usually answer No.
However as sex worker advocates articulate, the picture is somewhat fuzzier if the customer engages the drug addicted worker to provide services. Troubling is that some of these drug addicted girls will provide services in exchange for their drugs or do almost anything to not feel their pain. This often includes providing oral sex or anal intercourse for five or ten dollars. This happens frequently at the city licensed Venus Theatre yet the VPD and the Mayor have done nothing to clean up this dump.
The men who choose to engage in this type of activity with drug addicted prostitutes are creepy and need help. Moreover, so does the drug addicted sex worker. But civil libertarians will conclude and I concur with them that there is a fundamental right involved in prostitution (between consenting adults)called freedom of choice and that both the sex worker and customer, whether addicted or not, are freely engaging in a profession which is legal.
Ok Ok I know some radical feminists and moralists may be saying that when a sex worker (who is of an adult age) is addicted to drugs, that informed consent can't possibly be given. Now the police are joining their chorus and speaking the same language. If we go down this slippery slope, I imagine the courts will become panic stricken in deciding when choice isn't really a choice. For example, when an intoxicated women finds herself having sex with a man, which she later regrets, should she be able to use the defense that she didn't provide informed consent because she was temporarily incapacitated? Or what about the male who is exploring his sexual identity and feels remorse because, he engaged in sexual activity with another male while he was high. Concluding he wasn't capable of providing informed consent should he be allowed to use the courts to sue for exploitation? Should intoxication be an acceptable defense in sexual activity related matters?
Police need to be mindful of going in a direction which will have many undesired outcomes. For every john they bust, there will be spillover effects. Is society ready to go down that slippery slope hand in hand with the police remains to be seen.
In the meantime, the justice system needs to re-view whether the police have the moral authority, without legislation, of criminalizing a non criminal behavior. To target customers of sex workers is a blatant misuse and waste of taxpayer's dollars. Perhaps law enforcement should re-think their ill-conceived strategy.
Jamie Lee Hamilton