By: KATE HAWKINS
After shifting the focus of prostitution sweeps to target those who solicit sex as opposed to sex workers themselves, Ottawa police arrested 177 “johns” and no prostitutes last year, said Ottawa police Insp. Chris Rhéaume. Since 2009, the number of prostitutes arrested in sweeps has consistently declined, he said.
“We go after the johns as opposed to the prostitutes,” said Rhéaume, who explained that “johns” is the colloquial term for clients.
“We’ve found johns with chains, with bondage tools, with drugs that knock out women… so [arresting the johns] definitely helps the prostitutes,” he said.
Rhéaume said not all of those arrested were prosecuted for soliciting a prostitute. Some of them were sent to “john school,” an intervention and reform program to dissuade johns from hiring sex workers in the future.
According to a CBC article from Jan. 7, there were 14 more prostitution-related arrests made in 2009 than in 2013. However, only 56 of the 2009 arrests were clients, while the other 135 were sex workers. This has changed since police shifted their tactics two years ago, according to CBC. Since then, more johns than women have been arrested in sweeps.
All clients, regardless of whether they appeared to pose a particular threat to the sex workers, were arrested in “sweeps” carried out by Ottawa police, according to Rhéaume.
In Canada it is legal to exchange sex for money, according to the criminal code, but activities around the sex trade (such as soliciting sex workers) are illegal, which complicates the industry.
Frédérique Chabot, a member of POWER, a local advocacy group for the rights of sex workers, said the sweeps are ineffective in that they address “complex social problems – homelessness, poverty, addiction – with a blunt tool, effectively jeopardizing longer-term efforts of stabilizing some people’s lives via housing support, social programs, counseling.”
She says the sweeps are “just displacing people.”
Christine Bruckert, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa and an advocate for sex workers rights who works with POWER, echoed Chabot’s statement. She said the people who are policed most aggressively are the most marginalized men and women in our society.
“What happens when you police a sex worker is they try to avoid contact with the police. They don’t work in good areas, they work alone, they don’t take the time to assess their clients… that happens whether or not it’s the sex worker or the client being targeted,” Bruckert said.
Rhéaume said the Ottawa police service is doing all it can to promote the safety of sex workers.
“At the end of the day, this is a very dangerous job. Getting into cars is something we’ve been taught about as children. You don’t get into cars with strangers… it’s a dangerous trade,” he said.
On Dec. 20, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared prostitution laws in Canada unconstitutional and ruled that parliament would have a year to amend them. In the meantime, the same anti-prostitution laws remain in force.
Bruckert and Chabot said they hope the amendments will lead to the decriminalization of prostitution.
“We are hoping those most affected by the legislation – sex workers – will be at the table when it will be time to build our new regulatory approach. In the mean time, the laws are still in the book,” Chabot said.