A lesson in contradictions and biased reporting: The sex trade obscured

Nick Purdon interviews a john.

Wednesday night’s episode of The National, entitled “The sex trade, up close,” had all the most grotesque features of a community centre kiddie pool: it was shallow, stagnant, artificially sanitized, and chock full o’ crap.

It begins, “Is there anything more hidden than the sex trade? Sure our laws keep it that way, but maybe more so it’s our morals that push sex work into the shadows.” I should have turned it off at the end of this line as there’s nothing like the dreaded “m” word to kill any chance of facilitating critical thought. (All you libertarians in the house pump your fists in the air.)

First, we’re taken into a meeting room with several women from Maggie’s, a Toronto-based charity and tax-funded organization that provides a once-weekly drop in centre workshops, harm-reduction materials, and “xxx fun” for people in the sex industry. Maggie’s has been critiqued because they consider children free agents, able to consent to paid sex with much older men (calling sexually exploited children “youth sex workers” in Shameless Magazine back in 2011), and consider prostitution law, statutory rape law, and Child Protective Services the greatest source of harm to sexually exploited youth (rather than, say, pedophile rapists).

The women from Maggie’s that are featured in The National would like to see prostitution legitimized as an independent business occupation and “moved out into the open.” The model of legislation that Maggie’s advocates for (full decriminalization) operates under the idea that stigma — and not systemically ingrained male violence and sexual entitlement– is the primary source of harm for women and girls selling sex. I would argue that if Canada fully decriminalized prostitution, the process of male socialization that, in fact, causes women to be dehumanized to the point of physical violence would be more thoroughly entrenched in our social fabric. One doesn’t have to look much farther than legal mainstream pornography, featuring themes like “facial abuse” where women are choked, gagged, and forced to vomit (and sometimes eat their own vomit), or “teen gang bang” to see that normalization of the sex industry doesn’t always have emancipatory outcomes for women and girls.

Next we see an interview with Vancouver’s Trisha Baptie, a woman who describes herself as a “formerly prostituted woman” rather than a “sex worker.” She points out that just because we can and currently do let men buy sex with impunity, doesn’t mean that it’s an equality-based practice, or one that should be legally sanctioned. Unsurprisingly, the reporter discontinues his use of “I” statements for this section as he clearly doesn’t want to be associated with all those “moralizers” who want to come in and rain on dudes’ fantasy-sex parade. He graciously allows Baptie to assert her position for roughly two and a half out of 15 minutes — just long enough to say he’s covered the other side, but not long enough to let the other side articulate a cohesive argument.

Just in case you were worried that The National wouldn’t fall out of the prostitution cliché tree and hit every damn branch on the way down, the next section of the episode features a disabled john with cerebral palsy.

“So who are the johns?” the reporter says. “Well, that’s the thing. Nobody really knows.”

Wrong again! Contrary to the myth that sex buyers are just lonely chaps who can’t get “intimacy” any other way, researchers suggest that the majority of johns are middle-aged, middle-class, Caucasian, in relationships (where they are having sex), Christian, and able-bodied, which ticks almost every privilege box available. The number one reason men cite for why they purchase sex is because they can.

“Justice Minister Peter MacKay refers to all johns as perverts. Are you a pervert?” the reporter asks the john, Patrick Clark, in the breathy tone of a high school guidance counselor.

While “pervert” wouldn’t be the first descriptor that comes to mind when I think of a sex-buyer, the fact that this man is in a wheelchair doesn’t make him immune to being a cog in the wheel of sex inequality. As I’ve raised in the past, part of honouring the humanity of people with disabilities is recognizing that they can be just as racist, ableist, classist, and sexist as those of able body and mind. When disabled men pay for sex with a woman in prostitution, there are two vulnerable people in the room and their vulnerabilities don’t cancel each other out.

Finally, we’re taken to Dennis Hof’s Moonlight Bunny Ranch.

“I fully intended to open up in Toronto, Montreal, Nova Scotia, and Vancouver,” says Hof, referring to when the Canadian Supreme Court struck down three major prostitution laws. Hof has made “a fortune” taking 50 per cent of the income earned by women he employs at his brothel. He refers to all these women as “girls” but also suggests that, “in legal prostitution, there is no one underage because those who exploit children are unable to get a license.”

The idea that with removed “stigma” comes removed commercial exploitation of children, is an argument with several contradictions.

First, it ignores the fact that in countries that have decriminalized (like New Zealand), brothel owners have argued that the certification is too easy to get and that brothel managers often don’t get certified as it’s not required for establishments where less than five people are working at one time. Secondly, in places that have legalized (like Victoria, Australia), most brothel owners do not bother to get the required license, which creates a two-tiered system, with the unlicensed brothels providing illegal — and more lucrative — services (which Australia’s Scarlet Alliance says leaves legal brothels at a financial disadvantage). Thirdly, fully decriminalized brothel systems are set up to be monitored by the Ministry of Health and are only inspected for compliance with safe sex regulations, not for exploited children (the 2008 review suggests they’re not inspected at all due to lack of resources). Lastly, if children are fully able to consent to sex work — as Maggie’s and several support services in Vancouver suggested in a November 2014 report entitled “Sex Work | Transitioning, Retiring and Exiting” — why should we be concerned about girls under 18 in the sex industry in the first place?

“Is it for me forever? Absolutely not,” says Krissy Summers who works at Hof’s Bunny Ranch and admits that she doesn’t like the sex and considers it an acting job. She entered the sex industry to pay off massive student debt. This is one thing that The National conveniently fails to discuss — the push and pull factors that land women and girls in prostitution.

“Maybe what we need to do is see the people behind the transaction,” concludes the reporter with soap opera-style piano playing in the background. “That might go a long way to lifting the stigma and keeping women out of danger.”

It’s hard for me to stomach the assertion that an establishment like the Moonlight Bunny Ranch, which literally makes a “cha-ching” sound every time a john opens the door, is truly seeing the people — rather than the dollars — behind the transaction. The best way to truly treat women like humans is to give them social and financial security without the sexual exchange and sanction sex buyers through stiff fines and public shaming.

I had higher expectations for The National. This segment read like a john’s personal diary and if I got my way, I would have titled it “The sex trade, obscured.”

Jess Martin
Jess Martin

Jess Martin is a public relations professional, an aspiring writer, and an assistant editor at Feminist Current. She prefers to write about feminist topics, disability, or environmental issues, but could be persuaded to broaden her horizons in exchange for payment and/or food. In her spare time Jess can be found knitting, gardening, or lying in the fetal position, mulling over political theory that no one in their right mind cares about.

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  • corvid

    “Is there anything more hidden than the sex trade?”

    Yep: radical feminism. Took me 30 years to find it.

    • Wren

      Me too!! And a year to find this comment 😉

  • As a disabled woman, the whole “poor disabled man” bullshit just really shreds my shit. They don’t realize how they are being used and manipulated? They don’t see how they are being dehumanized? I can only shake my head.

  • Laur

    “The best way to truly treat women like humans is to give them social and financial security without the sexual exchange and sanction sex buyers through stiff fines and public shaming.”

    I don’t think monetary fines alone is enough. There needs to be some jail time, too. And they should have to register for the sex offender registry. These are things men themselves have said would be enough to stop them from paid rape.

    As Martin points out, most men who buy prostituted women are not normal, average men. They’re not hardened criminals who don’t care about going to jail. Some prostitution advocates say men have a biological “need” to buy sex, but the rates of men who buy sex vary drastically around the globe, depending on the laws and the enforcement of them.

    • Jacqueline S. Homan

      In the US, poor sex trafficking survivors with un-expunged prostitution records are listed as “sex offenders” for 99 years. We’re rendered unemployable FOR LIFE. And while some of us survivors have managed to win vacatur, it only happened for us after we were well over age 40—an age where we’re now “too old” for any company or employer to want to hire.

      And because victims of prostitution and trafficking are slapped into the sex offender category, cash-strapped survivor-run safehouses are routinely under attack by a large middle class American public. This happened to TWO survivor friends of mine: Kristy Childs, founder of Veronica’s Voice, and just very recently to Laurin Crosson of RockStarr Ministries.

      • Erika

        I agree that prostituted people should not be listed as sex offenders.

        People on the registry DO find employment. I accidentally discovered that a white collar coworker (in materials science engineering) was on the sex offender list!

        Also, 40 is an age “where we’re now ‘too old’ for any company or employer to want to hire?” Well then, I should have been put out to pasture and shot a while ago. This is a widely believed myth, but my experience is that it is untrue. In fact, the best educated among us don’t even get out of school until age 30 or so and then it takes time to hone one’s skills in the “real world.” Heck, I know people who returned to school to finish PhDs over age 40. Real world experience going into the classroom is also hugely advantageous. On the lower end of the employment spectrum, I also know plenty of people well into their early 60s who have landed jobs– and yes, even during the height of the recession!

        • I think you have an overly rosy picture of ageism in the workforce. The people Jacqueline is discussing aren’t graduate students. Even for those of us who are – I have a master’s degree and speak three languages fluently and others “functionally” – it is much harder to get jobs when we are seen as “old fuddy-duddies”. I think this and not sex appeal is what forces many of us to do things like colour our hair for so long.

          I’m very glad to have stopped “dyeing to be young”, but I do think it works against me in job interviews.

  • L

    Youth sex worker?! Let’s call a spade, a spade-children selling their bodies for money is abusive, exploitative and dangerous.

    I clicked on one of the Maggie’s link you shared, it begins: I am a sex worker, and I have been for 15 years. Each sex worker has his/her own story to tell, and mine started when I was 14. I was poor, young and had very few options.

    -Shouldn’t we focus on creating a world where children (mostly girls) are not so impoverished that his/her only option is to sell their body? A world where children don’t have to risk rape, unwanted pregnancy, abuse, and murder just to survive?

    Another line: Youth who are 14 and 15 can only consent to having sex with individuals who are less than five years older than them. This puts the adult who is buying sexual services from a youth at risk of being charged with sexual interference or sexual assault.

    -Ummm, I’m perfectly fine with an adult paying a child for sex being charged with sexual assault..I really don’t care about the adult who is buying sex from a kid, at all!

    I watched the episode (for those of you who are wondering, its about 15 minutes long).
    The interview with Patrick (the john with cerebral palsy) was interesting.

    Interviewer: what would happen to you if you couldn’t have dates with sex workers?

    Patrick: Probably? I wouldn’t want to be alive. It means that much to me, not just b/c I’m horny but b/c of that connection. I think the minute the humanity goes out of anyone’s life, that’s pretty much it.

    -It doesn’t really seem that sex with prostitutes is about “connection”… dates with prostitutes is about money and one person getting off. Plus, there are literally thousands of other ways humans can connect with each other.

    • andeväsen

      “Youth who are 14 and 15 can only consent to having sex with individuals who are less than five years older than them. This puts the adult who is buying sexual services from a youth at risk of being charged with sexual interference or sexual assault.”

      This is incredible in its sheer utter cruelty to children.

      The adult who is buying “sexual services” from a minor is abusing a child. They are not committing “interference” – what do they think a child is, a transmitter? – but are abusing. I am apalled that the concern here is that the adult will be “put at risk”.

      Also: This “less than 5 years older” caveat – does this apply to all late teenaged relationships in Canada or is it specific to the sexual exploitation industry? If it is a yardstick for child protection services by which to measure all late teenaged relationships in Canada, then it is even more horribly dire that this orgnisation wishes to make an exception for the sexual exploitation industry, so as to protect the exploiters/clients from prosecution. This is simply inhuman.

      • EEU

        This just shows whom they are really concerned about: the johns. The problems is johns ‘being at risk’ for getting arrested instead of children being abused.

      • ArgleBargle

        The age of consent for sexual activity in Canada is 16 years. There is a ‘close in age’ exception where there is no relationship of trust, authority or dependency or any other exploitation of the young person and :
        – if the young person is 14 or 15 years old, the older partner is no more than 5 years older, unless legally married
        – if the young person is 12 or 13 years old, the older partner is less than 2 years older

        However, where there is a relationship of trust, authority or dependency or other exploitation of the young person, the age of consent is 18 years old.

        It is a criminal offense in Canada, for example, to offer or obtain the sexual services of (to prostitute) a young person under 18 years, or to make, transmit, or have pornography involving a young person under 18 years.

      • Jess Martin

        This is part of the statutory rape law for all people under 18 in Canada. People under 18 cannot legally consent to sex with someone over 5 years their age.

  • It’s beyond “obscuring” the sex industry. It’s downright deception. When I first started the domestic sex trafficking movement in the USA in 1987 – this country treated someone who spoke about the subject the same as one would treat someone who said they were being abducted by aliens today would be. We were not believed – and literally people would try and lock us up for “observation” when we tried to speak about what was happening. For YEARS I went onto national TV with one survivor after another telling our stories until we got traction. The MINUTE we broke through and people started believing us – the FCC up and changed the rules regarding media. Suddenly we couldn’t even buy advertising, let alone free public service announcements, because the corporations, which are part of the problem, were blocking us. But we kept moving forward and kept talking and the Trafficking Act of 2000 was passed giving us federal recognition finally.

    Okay now we went from straight denial – to now people are saying “okay what is it?” This is when not only were we being banned suddenly from all media – but the frauds started appearing. The Samoly Mam’s, Chong Kim’s, Stella Marr, Ben Hillar, all complete frauds. Why?

    Think of how David Copperfield can hide a whole elephant from view – and this is now the game. Distract us to the left with images of “trafficking” that are not in fact trafficking but prostitution. Then while people are looking left – the traffickers are going right.

    I then started seeing show after show after show calling itself “reality TV” coming out about sex work – only it was all staged. After horrible fights, I’d get these shows taken down, the producers admitting they hired actors and the scenes were staged, but then a few months go by and they’re right back calling them “reality” again.

    I put together a film crew to produce a documentary about real modern trafficking in the USA. Everyone in the project was scared off. Those left then started having the smear campaigns and the threats start.

    At the same time as the latest one “8 Minutes” appeared. That was the absolute last straw. I’m tired of writing complaints to the FCC and getting one taken down only to have another one replace it a month later.

    I’m filing a class action lawsuit against one producer and one station that’s now put three of these completely faked reality shows about sex work on air – all to take our eyes off what real trafficking victims are going through right now. Without this press, the corruption is so high, we can’t get anyone to arrest the heads of this one operation because of how high.

    If anyone is a survivor and would like to join in this class action lawsuit filing against these lies about what and what we are – please get in touch to discuss. You can use a fake name by the way.


    • Mar Iguana

      Thank you so much, Jody Williams, for the crucial work you are doing.

  • Ellesar

    This makes me think of an annoying film I saw recently. It is called ‘Afternoon Delight’ and it is full on liberal nonsense about women going to strip clubs and having lap dances from other women, and some sort of sexual ‘liberation’. The only honest thing about the film (re the sex work, not the marriage problems which were so tedious that I wouldn’t know if they were honest or not) was when Juno Temple’s character says she does sex work because she can earn so much money.

    I wonder how many women would still do sex work if it was minimum wage? I think all the libertarian types would find something else to do, and it would be left to the majority – addicted and otherwise struggling women and girls, and of course forced and otherwise coerced women and girls. I really hate people trying to make the industry ‘respectable’ – I worked at the ‘high end’ and I still saw the pain and abuse that many of the women around me were carrying. The men ARE ordinary men, it is true, but frankly that isn’t saying much – I was treated as though I might as well have been a prostitute by so many men from when I was a teen, so working as a prostitute wasn’t actually any worse.

  • Mike Lebednik

    I recently read an article (admittedly from about 25 years ago) wherein some researchers posited that sexual aggression in men may be explained plausibly as an evolutionary biological means of ensuring such men’s greater likelihood of extending their genes into the future. The so-called bioligical need to buy sex would be a logical compliment to the biological gene-pool theory. It is curious, given the evolutionary biological argument for male sexual aggression, how little time is spent investigating the contribution to exploitive behavior that is made possible by capitalism. Not that a patriarchal bias would cloud researchers (and “journalists”) conclusions, mind you. Gail Dines made it abundantly clear that were it not for big business and capitalist endorsement of exploitation of resources (whether natural or human), most of contemporay social ills wouldn’t be on a scale worthy of investigation. If we are at base economic animals in the evolutionary scheme, making a ton of money (by a select few) off the backs of the exploited class would be a most logical conclusion to draw. There is no economic incentive to validate the concerns of exploited people. In summary, our system is ultimately all about the filthy lucre.

    • EEU

      The article you read is just another evo psych bullshit. It’s just some misogynists trying to defend misogynist positions. And what about women? Don’t women want to pass their genes? I mean, come on. It reeks of bullshit.

    • marv

      Systemic issues of economic inequality, poverty, prostitution and violence against women in general prefigure capitalism. All past and present male models of organizing societies are about power over others and ‘filthy lucre’.

  • ArgleBargle

    The linked report “Sex Work, Transitioning, Retiring and Exiting – November 2014” is quite a read. Some good recommendations included : affordable, culturally sensitive housing, client centered therapeutic and drug rehabilitation programs, financial support for exiting people, child care, and erasure of criminal records related to prostitution offenses.

    Most interesting, however, is what this report barely mentions: the violence against women, children and men committed by men who pay to have “sexually” access their bodies.

    “Johns” are mostly invisible in this report. One of the few mentions indicates that 98% of “sex workers” in the DTES report experiencing violence from “bad dates”. No recommendation on preventing and holding these men accountable for their violence is given. No recognition that one of the best ways to reduce the harm these men do to women and children is to keep these men off the street.

    Sexually exploited minors are completely invisible. Instead, one can read about “youth who engage in transactional sex” and “experiential youth” and “youth who exchange sex for survival”. The report appears to promote the view that the youth consent to their own sexual exploitation, e.g. “Youth who engage in transactional sex often face particular challenges as well, some of which include being denied agency and access due to their age, despite the fact that some youth do not identify as being abused and do not require saving; rather, they are making a consensual decision based on the socio-political and economic climate combined with personal life circumstances”.

    Not one mention of the fact that youth under the age of 18 are legally unable to consent to being penetrated by adult men. No mention of current laws that make it a criminal offense for adult men to bribe youth for “sexual” access.

    NO recognition that what is really going on is that adult men are finding vulnerable children and using money or shelter or food to coerce them into unwanted sex. Which is rape.

    This is the language and agenda of the “sex work” lobby.

    Organizations which support this view should not be granted access to provide services to sexually exploited children. Children harmed in this manner need to understand that they were harmed, that men preyed upon their vulnerability, that they did not “choose” this harm, that they are not “survival sex workers”. They need to understand that they are real, human, vulnerable youth, as worthy of protection and support and care as any other teenager, and that no, it is not OK for adult men to bribe them for access to their bodies.

    • keith

      Most sex workers say they’re far more worried about invasive behaviour from the police than from their clients. Also note that assault is currently illegal, so the question is how do you successfully prosecute for assault, and it’s reckoned that under criminalisation it would be very difficult for active sex workers to be heard.

      • Meghan Murphy

        You’ve spoken with ‘most sex workers,’ then have you? The kids, the trafficked women, the ones who got raped last night by johns, the murdered ones… All of them?

      • Laur

        It is women with experience in the sex trade that are pushing for this model. They were in a tough situation (runaways, poverty, addiction, self-hate, etc), and men took advantage of this situation to exploit them for their own sexual desires. These women say virtually every time they engaged in paid sexual activity, they were raped.

        This is not about a few johns assaulting some women. It is about men taking advantage of girls, women and some boys and men who are in a very difficult place.

        The blogs of Rebeca Mott and Rachel Moran are particularly eloquent in discussing this topic.

        • keith

          Those are people who hated prostitution and left. Sympathy to them, but they don’t need help in reporting assault to the police. If you talk to current rather than former sex workers, there is overwhelming opposition to adding a layer of criminality. (I think the reasoning goes “If the police are aware of me, they’ll follow me and arrest my clients, and then I won’t be able to feed my children”. I don’t know how accurate that is but you have to admit it’s an understandable fear.)

          The best approach is reckoned to be the New Zealand model.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Define ‘best’.

          • marv

            You are reducing the Nordic Model to legal penalties, overlooking its integral financial and social lifelines. The fact that some jurisdictions adopt it piecemeal is not the fault of the approach. Why are you critiquing something you know so little about?

          • marv

            @keith btw.

      • marv

        Would you vote to repeal laws against other forms of rape because women could be as afraid of police as they are of rapists? Why demean discourse by words without knowledge?

    • Susan Smyth

      Thanks for this analysis of the BC Government/Ministry of Justice and City of Vancouver funded report: “Sex Work: Transitioning, Retiring and Exiting” from November 2014. I too found it very troubling and based very much in Sex Industry ideology. As an RN who works with prostituted women, I would much rather that Erin Graham’s excellent thesis ” More than Condoms and Sandwiches” would be supported and followed toward determining policies.

      • lizor

        I agree. ” More than Condoms and Sandwiches” is an excellent document that needs to be widely circulated.

        A thought I had after reading it re, the difficulty in choosing accurate terminology about women’ actions and experiences in pornography and prostitution: using the term “buying [or selling] sex” seems a misnomer – just as “beauty” is to describe conformism to the dictated of the cosmetic and fashion industries. I would like the word “sex” as it indicates a shared erotic action to designate the exchange of MUTUAL erotic pleasure.

        “Sex” is not what is being bought and sold – submission is. Johns should be described as “Men who buy sexual submission”, or merely “Men who buy submission”, given that so many claim to want someone to simply “listen” to them – i.e. feign interest in the John’s self-absorption.

      • ArgleBargle

        I wouldn’t mind reading a copy of the thesis by Erin Graham, is there a copy in pdf form available online? The title sounds promising 🙂 I know sometimes PhD and MA theses are available online.

  • Nehiyaw fem

    I exited through a sex work org I have never heard the term child sex worker and these orgs are concerned with human trafficking. You by no means have to agree with how i exited or survived but it saved my life because some mainstream org didnt think i knew how to get out for good. Many of the people would even fit the definition of trafficking and they help them. Have you ever been to one of these orgs or requested to talk to them? They could probably answer questions you have. Otherwise these just sound like assumptions. Where is your source that can back up the claim that these orgs promote “child sex workers” I genuinely would like to see, that is all i’m requesting. A link to wish doesnt really provide grounds that these orgs promote child sex workers…

    • EEU

      There is a link in the article.

      • Nehiyaw fem

        It refers to youth there is no explicit use of child, i understand how that troubles people but youth can be up to 24, even though legally its different. Most shelters label youth up to 24. Yes, she is talking about youth that is alot younger that age and that could be enough for people to think child and its scary to think about but she is recommending what might get youth out instead of putting them through the same protection services that committed genocide and still do. Putting youth through protection care seems like what could save them or it could longer the process of them remaining and leading to further danger. I don’t agree with what she’s saying but it sounds like she is reflecting on what could have helped her and others. Sex positive spaces can also mean for youth to criticize their situation since they’re in a space to express that. If she had resources sooner then later it could have saved her years of remaining in the trade. It’s not perfect but we can’t deny what child protection services have done for decades in committing genoicide towards first nations children in canada, same with rcmp, same with indian agents, same with the johns, and the list goes on. If people can get beyond the awful language, there is some sense in it that youth could have versatile resources that lead them out.

    • ArgleBargle

      I am glad you found an organization that you found worked well in supporting you in exiting.

      To be clear, I did not say nor do I believe that any of these organizations promote “child sex work”.

      What I am concerned about is that the report I cited appears to promote the view that the youth may consent to their own sexual exploitation, for example, in this quote from the report : “Youth who engage in transactional sex often face particular challenges as well, some of which include being denied agency and access due to their age, despite the fact that some youth do not identify as being abused and do not require saving; rather, they are making a consensual decision based on the socio-political and economic climate combined with personal life circumstances.”

      Canadian law, with good reason, says otherwise : a youth under the age of 18 years can not legally consent to their own sexual exploitation. It is also worth noting that under Canadian law, it is a criminal offense for for anyone to obtain the sexual services of a youth under 18 (child prostitution).

      I am also concerned that the report fails to name and address the agent directly responsible for harming sexually exploited youth – men who offer payment in cash or kind to obtain “sexual” access to youth under 18 years.

      Leaving aside the report, I believe that if a child under 18 years of age is being sexually exploited, harm reduction is inadequate unless priority is given to providing the child immediately a safe, welcoming, and continuing refuge from the situation of sexual exploitation. To further ensure the safety of our most vulnerable youth, there must also be an increased focus on preventing the men who purchase sexual access to minor youth from continuing to do so.

      • Nehiyaw fem

        I think all of those points are plausible and yes in those specific situations harm reduction may not even work for those situations, it’s not a one size fits all model but it’s not entirely discredible either. I think it would be a bit complicated also if the youth is exchanging sexual activities for money, shelter or other needs and they’re doing it with both adult men and male youth which is also pretty common sadly. Adult men it is pretty obvious that they should be accountable but with other male youth? Someone could easily argue that the male youth has no agency and therefore doesn’t know what hes doing, and can’t be accountable. So as futile i think the agency debate is there are problems with it as the level of how precocious youth is not always obvious. In the law’s eyes it is more obvious with adults in terms of degrees of agency. By agency they may mean the youth has an understanding of what is harmful to them . It is by no means justifiable, but unfortunately getting the refuge they deserve and need may be impossible at the time if we ignore how precocious they could be….

        • ArgleBargle

          Most if not all minor youth who are sexually exploited are not able to be aware of the vast physical, emotional and developmental harm inflicted upon them by men bribing them for “sex” until they are out of the environment of sexual exploitation. Once safe, it may take months or years for them to be able to fully process the harm. PTSD and the fact that they are exploited at an age where they have not fully matured is a big factor in this. This is one reason Canadian law makes it illegal to purchase a minor for “sex”.

          This is why “harm reduction” programs aimed at sexually exploited minor youth are grossly inadequate if they start from the premise that some minor youth must be coaxed away over time from the harm, because, “agency”. Teenage development is all about understanding how the world works, how they fit in the world, and who they are. It is extremely important to their sense of self worth and future adult identity that, if they are sexually exploited, the response is immediate, protective, non shaming, gets then to a safe place, and that the person who exploited them is named as the active party and as a source of harm. Every minor teenager, whether they are homeless, indigenous, gay, trans, or “precocious”, should be provided with a full chance to understand that it is never OK for someone to make provision of shelter, food or other means of support contingent on the minor allowing sexual access to their body.

          Kids learn by watching what adults do more than by listening to what they say. If social workers and/or police tell sexually exploited minors that men should not be prostituting them, but then fail to arrest the johns who troll the streets for minors, or fail to provide the minor with a safe place away from the exploitation, or tell the child that it is up to her to decide when she wants to “leave the streets” (i.e. stop being raped by adult men who bribe her for access) … what do you think the child is learning? She is learning that the protection that adults speak about is not for her, because she is different, is “streetwise’ or “wise beyond her years”, or “hardened” or “difficult” or some other such blarney. She is learning (whether it is true or not) that the adults who know she is being prostituted do not care enough to stop her from being harmed by any more johns.

          I am aware that the social services available to sexually exploited youth in Canada is not the best. One particularly bad example, the CBC reported that teenagers in Winnipeg reported being placed by child protective services in hotels where they witnessed adult prostitution and drug use. Foster homes may be judgmental or unsafe and group homes may expose a teen to violence from other teens or visitors.

          There could be other options. GEMS in NYC does good work and might be worth looking at to develop a Canadian model. Therapeutic, culturally sensitive boarding programs based well outside the city which focus on building outdoors skills, academics and career skills and provide music, dance and art options are useful in helping minors heal from trauma and build confidence.

          And, worth repeating, the police should be doing their job and arresting the johns out there who are bribing vulnerable and homeless youth for “sex” right now.

          Note regarding your point about male youth paying minors for sex: it is illegal for youth (whether they say they have “agency” or not) to purchase “sex” from minors.

    • Jess Martin

      You would have to look at the other links I provided and the report “Sex Work: Exiting, Retiring, Transitioning” which was submitted to the city of Vancouver in 2014 by several organisations in Vancouver. I believe that these groups do very valuable work but I do not agree with the report’s stance on minors selling sex. If you would like to receive the report, I can e-mail it to you. If you can find it yourself,the “youth transactional sex” part is on page 22.

      • Nehiyaw fem

        I read the report when it was released. I didn’t agree with that section but I think it would have been beneficial if you contacted these womens orgs and expressed your discomfort with the language for that particular section. Women’s orgs get enough heat as it is. I hope you did take that step, but for future I think it’s worthwhile to be proactive in communication, even if there is disagreement. Other then that, good article. Hiy Hiy.

  • Nehiyaw fem

    To also comment on argles point, johns are often not in reports not because they ‘don’t care’ or have a ‘sex work lobby agenda’ it’s far more confidential, johns shouldn’t always be aware of how people are trying to hold them accountable, especially if it could increase danger.

    I hate to burst the allies bubble here but rcmp aren’t going to suddenly take women in the trade seriously and they’re practically Indian agents to most native women. Now native women have to worry about them going undercover. Please don’t downplay the common hatred for men who exploit women and children because you don’t hear about it, or the semantics can be at times troubling from what you hear. It’s more complex then that, and obviously the public hasn’t been the best in handling how to hold men accountable and to stop violence towards marginalized women. In nordic countries abolitionists and sex work orgs combat ending violence towards women together even if they have different methods. From a native women’s view( and im not speaking for other native women) this infighting is pretty pathetic in canada to me since women are going
    To have different needs in exiting and the mainstream can’t handle the fact that women may be getting out through “scary” “neoliberal” sex work orgs because that may be the only option at the time and it could save their life. The lateral violence that happens with this infighting doesn’t even come close to the reality, so its tolerable for now but counterproductive in stopping MMIWG

  • Jennifer

    What a great article. The sex trafficking that went on for me happened in “my own home” while my own mother stood by on the sidelines and did nothing.

    • L

      Jennifer,I am sorry to hear that you did not receive the protection and safety that every child should have. I’m curious about your thoughts-do you think having access to a sex work organization or cps would have helped you?