Starting a Bad Trick Sheet

(As it was first published in CASH (Coalition Advocating Safer Hustling) Newsletter Vol. 2 No. 3 July 1995)

Setting up a Bad Trick Sheet (BTS) is a good way for prostitutes to get organized. When I arrived in Vancouver I went to the local newspaper that carries business personals and put my ad in. I asked the person in charge of the ads if she would make a Bad Calls List available to pros who come in to pay for their ads. I showed her examples from Maggie's. Not only was she enthusiastic, she sent a reporter and a photographer to do a story about it to try to drum up interest. Before long, several pros had called me and I had the first two reports. It's easy to start a Bad Calls List (BCL) because pros who book calls over the phone are more likely to call in with their bad calls. It's important that pros can find my ad in the paper and see that I work too. Starting the BCL put me in touch with girls who had worked on the street, or still do, and we will soon be starting a pro-run BTS for the street.

On the street, most bad date information is collected when the BTS is given out. At Maggie's, people talked up the idea while doing outreach on the street and pros knew immediately what they were talking about. Before long Maggie's received a couple of reports and in August, 1990, Toronto's first BTS was produced. Pros need to talk to people who understand the work first-hand when reporting a bad date. On the street pros often warn each other by word of mouth. While it's best to get first-hand information, details of an incident often get reported second- or third-hand. Maggie's only started getting Bad Trick information over the phone after three years when the BTS was well established, and even then it was rare.

Pros who work over the phone don't often have people they can talk to about an incident. Recently a pro called me and told me of a brutal assault that happened ten years ago as if it were yesterday. She also told me that while she wasn't on welfare, she needed a welfare worker to help her take care of her child when she got out of the hospital, because of her injuries. The worker insisted on attending the trial even though she'd been asked not to. When it came up in court that the pro had worked, welfare stole her six-year-old from school at noon, telling the school not to inform the mother, and didn't tell her they had her child until 8 pm. They told her child that she was a bad mummy and that she was a prostitute and explained what a prostitute was. It took her eight months of fighting in court to get her child back.

Prostitutes will trust the BTS if they know that this information is distributed to people in the business only. It is important to keep tight control over the circulation.

Taking a Report

Information is given anonymously. This fact is advertised on the cover of the sheet. I keep records of who gave me the info if the person offers their name and number but this information is kept secure. And I don't publicize this fact. In the four years that Maggie's has been running a BTS I don't believe that anyone has ever given a false report. Social service organizations (especially those run by large charitable institutions) are apprehensive about publishing identifying information (things like licence plate numbers, names, phone numbers, addresses) because they fear a civil suit. (For the Bad Calls List, names and addresses can be verified if you have the phone number by using a reverse directory like the Bower's in Toronto or the Criss Cross in Vancouver.) But it's important for prostitutes to have all the information that is available in order to protect themselves. This is another good reason to keep the circulation limited only to people in the sex trade. It's also a good reason for these sheets to be operated by informal organizations of pros. Maggie's and SWAV (Sex Workers' Alliance of Vancouver) print a clearly visible disclaimer on the back: "This is a list of reports given anonymously. It is only intended to assist prostitutes to help each other avoid dangerous situations. We cannot guarantee that the Bad Trick information is accurate."

When taking bad trick reports its important to not get caught up in the horrific details of the assault but to concentrate on details that identify the assailant. Following a data sheet ensures that you don't miss any important questions that might elicit details. Gruesome details of the assault without information about the assailant is not in any way useful.

Accept and publish any bad trick reports you get even if it might seem like a less serious incident. Prostitutes need to know that their reports are taken seriously. They also need to know that they do have some recourse if they are assaulted or ripped off. It helps relieve the feeling of helplessness. If the information is so sketchy that it would not be helpful in identifying a possible assailant, only then is the report not worth publishing. In that case , this should be tactfully explained to the pro. For the Bad Calls List I keep a separate list for jerks -- people who make appointments and don't show, things like that. If the same person is reported as a jerk several times then I will put him on the Bad Calls List.

Sometimes even pros think, "I would never pick up a date in that situation; I never accept calls from phone booths," or whatever. Its a way of saying that a bad trick could never happen to me. Be non-judgemental when taking a report. It's never the fault of the prostitute when they get assaulted, regardless of whether it seems like poor judgement, because they were high or money-hungry.

NEVER call the police without the consent of the pro, no matter how brutal the assault is. Never try to convince a pro that they must give a report to the police. Pros must make this decision for themselves. A couple of reports to Maggie's illustrate why:

A homeless street prostitute was beaten and raped so badly that she ended up in hospital for several days and, several months later, still required surgery. The hospital called the police. The officer who responded to the call had arrested the woman in the past and, during the arrest, was violent toward her. Before he left, he told her, in front of hospital staff, that she had it coming.

A prostitute had been beaten over the head with a hammer by a client. The woman went directly to the hospital, who called the police in the next day. As soon as the prostitute was released, she was picked up for an outstanding warrant related to a prostitution-related offence.

Maggie's got many reports similar to these. If a pro wants to make a report, it is good to go with them for support and as a witness (to ensure they are treated seriously and sensitively). It's good to know which cops are the most sensitive and approach them privately. For instance, contact the sexual assault squad, or a cop that the girls know and like, rather than general dispatch.

Be careful of ANY relations with the police. Sometimes it is necessary to talk to the police when they're looking for a suspect who may have attacked prostitutes in the past. DON'T let them access the entire list. You don't want them to be able to look for descriptions that might fit the suspect without having access to any details that they might know. Do the search for them. (Fast searches are another reason to keep the information on a data base.) Always think of it as trading information. Police often don't warn pros about a potentially dangerous client because they need the suspect to reoffend in order to lay charges. They think prostitutes are expendable. If you get a report from the police, make it clear where the information comes from.


It's important for prostitutes to be in control of the BTS: not only its distribution and collection of its data, but also all the aspects of production. The more simple to use the data base, the easier it is to facilitate this.

The system used for the BTS at Maggie's, as well as the one in Vancouver, is on a Macintosh computer. The data base is designed in Filemaker Pro 2.0. The Sheet itself is published using Quark XPress. XData (an auxiliary extension for Quark) enables XPress to import data-base files.

The format should display the details in a consistent order from report to report. Using a data base facilitates this because the fields are in a consistent order in each of the records. The information should be as simple and concise as possible. Using the same descriptive words consistently, particularly for the type of incident, makes searches fast and easy (i.e., for attempted strangulation, use "choking"). The shorter and more concise the description of the assailant and incident, the more reports will fit on an issue of the BTS. Avoid editorializing or printing irrelevant information. I've seen bad date sheets from social service organizations that say things like "this Prince Charming," or "this winner," did x. This is not helpful. It is also not useful to inform everyone what the pro charges for a BJ or whatever. The reports on the Maggie's BTS and the SWAV BCL are printed in descending chronological order, starting with the most recent. A database simplifies this task with a simple sort. The reports flow from column to column until old reports are eventually pushed off the end. Each issue of the BTS needs to be recognizable as a new one. Using a rotating colour scheme for the paper works well.

Because the BTS is such a useful and popular piece of outreach material, it makes a good vehicle for putting out other information, especially when the BTS is starting out and doesn't have enough reports to fill a whole sheet. Safety tips are a good thing to include, as well as important news bulletins.

Now that the Maggie's Bad Trick Sheet has gotten so large (over 200 reports since 1990), I've offered to design a quick reference booklet that would be organized first by vehicle (car, van, truck, taxi, foot), then by colour, then in descending chronological order. This would be designed with tabs so it could be quickly opened to the description of the vehicle. Using a database means that the design could be easily updated every 25 new reports or so. The Bad Calls List could be organized by phone exchange.

Remember, it isn't necessary to have all the snazzy production values and equipment. Bad Trick Sheets can be just as effective typed on an old typewriter, or even written by hand and photocopied.

I'm available to help any organization starting a BTS, as a consultant, or by providing and adapting templates and training. But I have two conditions: the organization has to introduce me to at least one person currently working as a pro who will be integrally involved in putting out the BTS; and it must be the goal of the organization to have the BTS eventually operated entirely by pros. I can be reached by writing SWAV, Box 3075, Vancouver, BC, V6B 3X6, or by contacting CASH.


Clippings about violence... [Rights Groups]

Created: May 28, 1997
Last modified: March 9, 1999
SWAV Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver
Box 3075, Vancouver, BC V6B 3X6
Tel: +1 (604) 488-0710