Policy not to arrest prostitutes
Going after pimps and customers will be more effective in reducing street prostitution, an inspector said.
first in Canada
A decision announced by police last week not to charge prostitutes makes Vancouver the only major city in Canada with such a policy.
Inspector Ken Doern, head of the Vancouver police vice squad, said the change shows officers now recognize sex trade workers are actually victims and police resources are better spent pursuing johns and pimps.
"We look at sex trade workers as already being victimized. Our policy now is not charging any females unless there's unusual circumstances. It may be someone quite young and we may need a court order to get them assistance," Doern said.
He said he believes going after pimps and customers will do more to reduce street prostitution in the long run.
"From 1988 to 1995 there were over 9,000 charges laid in Vancouver and less than 3,000 involved males as johns so obviously charging females hasn't been a deterrent.
"In the past, prostitutes have been penalized, jailed, fined and shifted from neighborhood to neighborhood, but no concentrated effort was made to go after the customers, and we firmly believe these men are predators."
Mayor Philip Owen said he supports the force's decision not to charge prostitutes, especially considering the judiciary isn't handing out tough enough sentences to try to deter prostitutes.
"I think the whole thing is to rescue the women," said Owen.
Vancouver's decision is unique among police forces in Canada dealing with serious street prostitution problems.
"I can't understand why they wouldn't charge," said Constable Kevin Cadell, of the Toronto juvenile prostitution unit. "We see them as victims as well, but some of the older ones have full knowledge of what they are doing."
Prostitution is legal in Canada but in 1985 the government enacted legislation that would make communicating for th purpose of prostitution illegal. According to then-justice minister John Crosbie the new law was a means to clear prostitutes from residential streets.
Edmonton police Sergeant Brad Ward said if his city decided not to charge prostitutes many community groups would protest. "Prostitution is still our number one community concern."
Montreal Constable Richard Di Foglio said charges against prostitutes have not decreased and there is no directive to charge more customers in Montreal.
John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminologist, said a study done between 1986 and 1992 in Vancouver shows charging sex workers isn't much of a deterrent. However, the same wasn't true of their customers.
In that time period 2,045 men were charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution, but only 44 repeated the offence, said Lowman. However, the recidivism rate for prostitutes was approximately 80 per cent, he said.
Lowman said what you now see happening in Vancouver are informal red light districts being set up.
But Doern said there is no safe haven for customers. The police force began last year to go after customers and pimps more often. In 1996 there was an 87-per-cent reduction of prostituted-related offences in Vancouver from the previous year. Charges dropped from 944 in 1995 to 121 last year.
Doern said he can't say at this time how many 1996 charges were against customers as compared to prostitutes. However, he was aware of 26 pimps being charged in 1996.
Joanne Russell, a former sex trade worker who now counsels prostitutes, said she is pleased with the new policy.
"As long as they work a certain area they are not harassed," said Russell.
A provincial anti-prositution unit that was set up last year is now in the process of developing better enforcement, prevention and education strategies to help curb prostitution.