Wednesday, February 19, 1997

Robert Matas and Miro Cernetig
British Columbia Bureau

p. A1.

Vancouver police target sex customers

Prosecuting the prostitutes has not worked in drive against
vice in the streets

VANCOUVER -- In an aggressive move to wipe out the sex trade on Vancouver streets, city police have decided to go after those who buy sex, not the prostitutes who sell it.

"We've been trying so long to deal with [prostitution] by arresting the females," said Inspector Ken Doern, "but that's not solved the problem."

"So we said, 'Let's go after the men.' If we can reduce the number of customers, maybe we can reduce the sex trade," Insp. Doern, head of the force's vice squad, said yesterday in an interview.

The new approach, implemented Jan. 1, means that police will arrest those who buy sex on the street and the pimps who control the sex-trade workers. Prostitutes will be arrested only if they refuse help from government social agencies and continue to sell sex near schools, playgrounds, parks or residential areas.

The move comes after years of lobbying from community activists, who have long said the best way to stop prostitution -- particularly that involving children -- is for police to arrest the customers and the pimps, not prostitutes.

"This is the best bang for your law-enforcement buck," said John Turvey, a community activist in Vancouver's impoverished Downtown Eastside, where men are commonly seen arranging to have sex with children.

Police switch focus to customers in war on prostitution

p. A8.

Mr. Turvey, who runs the Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society, said the new police strategy will also mean that sex-trade workers will be more likely to report crimes against them because they will not be targetted. "This is a population group that has been targetted by predators. Forty to 50 per cent of murders of sex-trade workers go unsolved," he said.

He estimates that from 50 to 100 children are selling sex on Vancouver streets on any given night. A study commissioned by Mr. Turvey's organization in 1996 found that 25 per cent of prostitutes started selling sex at the age of 14 or earlier.

That study, titled Vancouver: Predator and Pedophile Paradise, concluded that in the past police have largely overlooked men who buy sex from juveniles. From 1988 to 1994, the study said only six charges were laid against people who bought sex from children. In the same period, however, 354 juveniles were charged for selling sex.

And the courts are typically tough on prostitutes and lenient on their customers.

In Burnaby provincial court in October, 42 men were charged as a result of trying to purchase sex from undercover police women dressed as prostitutes; nine women were charged as a result of offering sex for money to undercover policemen.

The judge handed out conditional discharges to the 18 men who pleaded guilty. (Eleven did not show up and arrest warrants were issued and the remainder had arranged for an adjournment).

The men who were convicted were placed on a one-year probation and required to pay $100 to the local food bank. Also, they were prohibited from going into the red-light district.

Only one of the women showed up in court and she pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The Burnaby RCMP detachment had 12 officers on the investigation for three weeks. The RCMP was responding to complaints from people in an adjoining neighbourhood objecting to the noise, traffic and drug-related activities. Complaints also dealt with finding condoms on the streets.

To draw attention to the crimes, the police publicized the names of every person who was charged and details on how the court dealt with the charge.

Yet despite their efforts, the Mounties in Burnaby do not feel they are making much of a difference.

After arrests, the prostitutes and their customers move to a neighbouring municipality. Police make arrests there and the offenders return to Burnaby, said Sergeant Don Brown of Burnaby RCMP.

The penalties imposed are so slight, they do not deter business, he said.

Police in Burnaby are ready to continue arresting both prostitutes, their pimps and men who pay for sex. "But it's not a high priority," said Sgt. Brown. Until residents complain again, the Burnaby force has no plans to do anything more.

In Vancouver, Insp. Doern said the city police force for years has been charging both male and females under federal prostitution-related laws. The majority of women who were charged were severely fined or imprisoned and only a small percentage of men received any kind of penalty.

Vancouver police decided last fall to adopt proposals from the Provincial Prostitution Unit calling for the focus to shift from the sex-trade workers to their customers and their pimps. Instead of arresting the women, the police force's first response will be to try and help sex-trade workers get assistance from community and government programs.

The Vancouver approach was endorsed by Fraser Valley West Reform Party MP Randy White, who called on police forces across Canada to deal with prostitution by charging the customers and pimps but to stop arresting women.

And, he added, the federal government should complement the shift in police practice by requiring courts to impose more severe penalties.

Judges appear to be treating prostitution-related offences as minor misdemeanors, Mr. White said. The fines are a joke, he added.

"If we're serious about it," he said, minimum sentences should be imposed for customers and the pimps. "Then we would not have to worry much about incarcerating the women."

Record of arrests and penalties

Police forces in Canada charged 6,710 people in 1995 with communicating for the purposes of buying or selling the services of a prostitute. An analysis of those arrests by Statistics Canada, released earlier this month, found the following:

  • Fifty-two per cent of those charged were adult women and 45 per cent were adult men. Police arrested 190 women under 18, which accounted for 2.8 per cent. Females on average were 28 years old; males were 35.

  • Thirty-nine per cent of the women charged in 1995 received a prison sentence and 32 per cent were fined. By contrast, only 3 per cent of the males were sent to prison and 56 per cent were fined. Women tend to be sentenced more severely, possibly because they are more likely to have previous convictions or face multiple charges, says Statistics Canada analysts.

  • Where a fine was imposed, both sexes were required to pay the same amount ($200), based on the median.

  • Vancouver accounted for 17 per cent of all prostitution-related incidents reported nationally in 1995.

  • The number of incidents in Canada rose 29 per cent between 1994 and 1995, but was preceded by steep declines between 1992 and 1994. Police arrested 9, 616 people for these crimes in 1992. Annual fluctuations usually reflect changes in enforcement, rather than volume of activity, Statistics Canada analysts say.
  • Almost half of those charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution during the period 1986 to 1995 were male. In the previous decade, slightly more than one-third were male.

-- Staff

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Created: February 21, 1997
Last modified: July 2, 1997

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