Oldies: Vancouver: Off-street sex workers less likely to face violence

Study finds four-fifths of prostitutes don’t work the streets

Linda Nguyen, Vancouver Sun

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2007

Prostitution and violence do not always go hand in hand, according to a three-year academic study by Simon Fraser University.

In the first study of its kind in the country, criminology graduate student Tamara O’Doherty found that two-thirds of off-street prostitutes – specifically high-end escorts – have never experienced violence on the job.

The number of prostitutes in Vancouver is estimated to be in the thousands, but only 10 to 20 per cent are actually working on the street, O’Doherty said.

The study shows that 80 to 90 per cent work as off-street prostitutes running their own businesses through newspaper and online advertisements, bawdy houses and massage parlours.

She said her research shows people who support criminalizing prostitution because it’s violent or not a choice are basing their opinions on the experiences of street prostitutes who “are pushed into isolated areas of the city” and work in fear of the police.

O’Doherty contacted Vancouver prostitutes by sending out mass e-mails to several escort services. The 49 women who responded were not what most people would stereotype as prostitutes.
“These women weren’t  blonde bombshells who were there for the ‘porn star experience.’ My biggest surprise in doing this research was how incredibly articulate these women in the industry were,” O’Doherty said.

“People obviously assume women wouldn’t make the choice to go into prostitution but I found these women are from every walk of life,” she said.

Some women were sex workers only on weekends with regular out-of-town clients.
“They’re moms, artists, lawyers, nurses, police officers and teachers. You would have no idea if you had one of them living next door to you,” she said.  

More than 90 per cent of the study participants were university-educated.

O’Doherty argues these women rarely or never experienced violence – physical or sexual assault, threats, clients unwilling to pay or use a condom – because they’re allowed to negotiate terms of their transactions, unlike street sex workers.

Aurea Flynn of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter said the study goes too far pushing for the legitimization of prostitution.

“What we know is that the average age of prostitutes when they begin the trade is 14 years old and that most women were molested or raped before they even begin,” she said. “The fact that they’re not reporting it in their current work situation doesn’t exclude that they didn’t experience violence from males in the past.”

SFU professor John Lowman has been researching violence in prostitution since the ’70s and said these results confirmed what he’s suspected all along.

“The importance of this research is that it shows that the prohibitionist argument is ideological and political. It provides a huge stumbling block and strongly favours decriminalization,” he said.
Lowman grew up in the red-light district of Sheffield, England and remembers a childhood living next door to “working women.”

“I got to know these women as just women, not as prostitutes, and couldn’t believe the way they were treated just because of what they do,” he said.

http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/story.html?id=795662d1-7b54-4119-8a76-71239b94b44f&k=28226

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