johns and fannys

A couple of years ago, Ottawa Police decided to really start cracking down on prostitution so they’ve been conducting monthly “sweeps” of certain communities (usually tipped off by a member of that community).  In a two-day, undercover operation last week they arrested 14 people — 12 johns and two women, with 16 criminal charges and one provincial charge being laid.

The johns have to go to john school. I’ve often wondered what john school is exactly. Do they teach people how to buy sex for money legally and safely? Because prostitution has never been illegal in Canada – just   stuff like communicating for the purposes of prostitution, soliciting, keeping a common bawdy house, procuring, and living off the avails of prostitution. So it’s okay to buy and sell sex, but it’s a mystery as to how that’s possible to do legally.

Anyway, they don’t teach johns any of that in the one-day course; because that would make little bit of sense, wouldn’t it?  Some of you may have first-hand knowledge and can correct me, but from what I’ve read, john school is more like one really long finger-wagging sermon about the evils of prostitution. They try to scare men off of ever paying for sex by telling them horror stories about the lives of prostitutes and the dangers of consorting with them. (As an interesting side note, only men caught trying to buy sex from women have ever been sent to john school. No male client of a male prostitute has gone through the program in Canada.)

John Statistics

From the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) and the British Columbia Medical Services Foundation (BCMSF) John’s Voice Survey  

  • The average john has paid for sex anywhere from once to 5,000 times, starting at an average age of 27
  • The majority are employed full time with the largest group (25%) indicating an income of more than $100,000 a year. 56% made $60,000 or more per year
  • The largest group involved in buying sex are those in business, finance or administration, at 17%, followed by people in trades and transport at 12%, with those in the natural and applied science fields at 11.6%
  • Of those, while 61.6% professed knowledge of Canada’s prostitution laws, further questioning indicated only 24.2% actually had a full knowledge of the laws
  • Of the johns surveyed, 86.1% stated that they generally prefer to be with a female sex seller, 10.5% with a male, 1.3% with transgender or other, and the remaining 2.1% had no preference
  • The majority of johns prefer in-call, escort services and massage parlours. A minority of participants indicated a preference for brothels or micro-brothels, clubs, bars or online avenues
  • The majority of johns neither drank (73.5%) nor did drugs (84.7%) prior to buying sex

From this survey and from sex trade worker accounts, most men buying sex are regular guys who perhaps are not interested in maintaining, don’t have time, or are unable to maintain or find a relationship. Or perhaps they are men looking for some sort of sexual activity or outlet outside of their relationship.

So, john school is stupid. It might scare a few nice, timid guys off and it might make some other guys look in less police-patrolled places for sex, but other than that it’s a big waste of time and taxpayer money.

And so are prostitution sweeps. First, they only target street prostitutes (about 15%  of the overall sex trade) who are already in a very vulnerable trade. Then by “sweeping” them (like so much rubbish) out of a community’s more visible areas, they force them to ply their trade in less populated, more dangerous areas. Of course, I could be wrong and once arrested; a street prostitute will see the error of her ways and will trot off and get a “nice” job. But I doubt it.

This is really what this all this craziness over prostitution is all about, isn’t it? For some reason, in our society, we look at prostitution as not a “nice” thing to do. It’s okay to pay people to come into our private homes and clean up after us. It’s okay to pay people to massage us and make us feel good. It’s okay to pay people to wax the hair off our genitals to make us look good. But it’s not okay to pay people to provide sexual satisfaction? In other cultures and in many religions,  the “Sacred Prostitute” was looked upon with honor and respect. 

If people are in the business willingly and aren’t being exploited any more than people in a lot of other jobs are — and let’s face it, people are exploited in many, many jobs — can we we agree, that consenting adults should be allowed to buy and sell sex safely, legally without harassment, discrimination, victimization or violence?

We may still hesitate to support the decriminalization of the sex trade because of issues surrounding the conflation of sex work with violence, organized crime, human trafficking or sex trafficking or child prostitution.

The Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand and other countries where prostititution has been decriminalized continue have serious problem with this, so they are pointed to as an examples of what happens when we decriminalize the sex trade. 

Of course all this is going on now anyway. I don’t think there is any way to make prostitution a profession as safe and sunny as Kindergarten teacher. But decriminalizing it will at least allow sex trade workers to seek help from police and/or medical professionals for abuse, health or other concerns without fear of  being arrested.

We obviously can’t reform prostitution laws in this country without also putting in place effective exit services like: a guaranteed livable income;  public education campaigns;  drug/alcohol addiction treatment;  job re-training; and, counselling to help those that are not in the sex trade willingly and need to get out without fear of violence from pimps and traffickers. (Surveys indicate that 90-95% of women in the sex trade say they would get out with such assistance).

A decriminalization position emphasizes the labour rights, health and safety rights, and human rights of sex workers,” says York sociology professor Deborah Brock who has published extensively on sex work. “It recognizes their ability to implement standards for the self-regulation of their trade, including forming professional associations governed by codes of conduct, rights and responsibilities, and to form or join trade unions so that they may collectively bargain the conditions under which they are prepared to work.

Exchanging money or goods for sex has been around as long as human beings have been around. Why do we continue to think policing it is the answer? Policing the sex trade makes it a criminal activity and encourages all sorts of peripheral criminal activity. Our ridiculous laws are most definitely not “stopping” the sex trade. Not allowing sex trade workers legitimacy, allows them to continue to be victimized.

Here are some things we can do to try and put an end to this foolishness and help those who choose to work in the sex trade industry be respected and valued for the difficult work they do.

  • Think about your own attitudes toward sex work.
  • Write to your MP and tell him/her that you want to see the prostitution laws reformed.
  • Support organizations challenging the sex work laws (e.g.: POWER Ottawa, Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).
  • Ask politicians to develop employment programs, addiction treatment facilities, and support antipoverty initiatives in general to assist those who are not in the sex trade willingly.
  • Report crimes against sex workers.
  • Demand that your local police stop laying charges against sex trade workers and other crimes of “morality”.

Despite, or maybe because of this long, rambling post, you might, correctly, point out that reforming our current laws is not magically going to turn the sex trade into safe, pleasant, crime-free, respectable profession. 

No, but what we have now is not working and handled properly, and in conjunction with sex trade workers, it must improve current conditions. And it might, for instance, help the some 3 million North American teens lured into prostitution every year.

Some Questions to Consider

  1. Is there any compelling reason not to decriminalize prostitution?
  2. Would decriminalizing prostitution in Canada lead to an increase in sex tourism, human trafficking,  and/or the sex trade overall?
  3. Is there really any way to reform the sex trade that will make it safe and non-exploitative?
  4. Sweden has chosen to deal with sex trade issues by prosecuting (with severe penalities) pimps, traffickers and johns and offering exit services to prostitutes. After 10 years, they report that this has reduced prostitution in Sweden by 40%. Is this a viable option? What happens to those that want to work in the industry but now have seriously reduced access to clients?
  5. Is it realistic or even desirable to try and eliminate prostitution entirely?  Are there any benefits to maintaining a sex trade in this society?

This post is long, but it’s going to stay up for a couple of days because I’d really like to get a thoughful discussion going on this topic.

25 responses to “johns and fannys

  1. Ideally prostitution should be legalized and regulated. But if the majority of the “streetwalkers” are drug addled junkies, then what will they do to get their drugs? B&E? Armed robbery? And there is a fine line of what prostitution is. No one thinks much about a woman accepting chips from a strange man at a blackjack table, flirting with him and then sleeping with him. But isn’t that a form of prostitution?
    I’m guessing the laws are really for dealing with the curbside streetwalker types. And I am also guessing that most of those are the drug addicts. Now the problem is really not about prostitution at all.

  2. 90-95% of women in the sex trade say they would get out with such assistance

    Can’t have that, what would the johns do?

    Seriously though, I think prostitution should be legalized, if only because then some of these women might get help. Not all of them by any means, but at least they’d have access to care.

    Prostitution has been around forever and they’ll never stamp it out. Might as well try to make it safer.

  3. Like other so-called “sins” like the possession of small amounts of pot, legalise it, regulate it and tax it.

    If a woman or a man wishes to use their body in such a manner and it is their choice – free of duress, then they have that right. Just like a UFC fighter consents to be pummelled or a quarterback consents to be stamped into the turf, they weigh the risks and make that decision.

    But the world right now is leaning waaaaayyyy over on the right of the spectrum when it comes to social policies. So, legalisation isn’t going to happen any time soon.

    BTW – why did they come up with “john”? Why not “dieter” or “wally”?

  4. I don’t know that I’d call it a sin, per say. But if you decriminalise and/or legalise prostitution, you’ll eventually have to decriminalise and/or legalise pimping. Also, legalisation will probably come with more than a few regulations, most/all of which will probably not be followed by people who do it specificly because the money from it doesn’t end up going to the government–those people exist, believe it or not.

    @Trashy: If you can come up with a way to legalise/regulate the distribution of pot that 1: won’t make us any poorer and 2: removes the option for folks who don’t want to pay the government’s set price plus tax on their purchase, then we’ll talk. Unfortunately, it’ll probably end up being the same as the folks who’d rather get their cigarettes from the nearest indian reservation–which also, I believe, isn’t regulated by the provincial/federal government.

  5. I don’t believe that this will be resolved by legalisation nor will further legislation work. There needs to be a carrot and a stick. I think that the Swedish approach is a good model with an apparently good result. Without stiff penalties and rigorous enforcement, there will always be exploitation. By nature this is not a good industry for self policing. But without exit services for those trapped in prostitution, it is also inhumane.

  6. @James – the preferred option would be to legalise it completely without need for regulation… treat it like any other crop…

    But that won’t happen – at least in my lifetime.
    So, work piecemeal and take away the “criminality” element and treat it like booze or like cigarettes.

    And while it is illegal in Canada to run a still, it isn’t to make beer or wine… likewise, it isn’t illegal to grow one’s own tobacco.

    To make it work, at least intially, you treat pot like hard booze… only special outlets can sell the stuff – and it is taxed… gotta be 18… etc… with the full knowledge that, like booze, some folks are out there with their own stills and plants doing their own thing.

    Gradually, over decades, the stigma is removed and total deregulation may be possible…

    The same goes for prostitution… don’t go full-out immediately… gradually make it more acceptable and legal….

  7. I don’t think there is any way to make prostitution a profession as safe and sunny as Kindergarten teacher. But decriminalizing it will at least allow sex trade workers to seek help from police and/or medical professionals for abuse, health or other concerns without fear of being arrested.

    I agree completely. Legalization and harm reduction are the sensible and compassionate way to address the issue of prostitution. If anything, the police should be devoting more resources to protecting sex workers from violence, rather than conducting pointless prostitution ‘sweeps.’

  8. Geewits – I think if we treat it like any other job, we’d be on the right path. More regulation isn’t the answer. There are labour laws to cover aspects of the profession; there are unions to protect employees and there are health and safety regulations. Right now prostitutes can’t be covered by any of that.

    Jazz – I think there must be some way to deal with this profession so that people who choose to do it can do it in the safest possible way. Sheesh. There are a zillion different jobs out there and we’ve managed to find ways to make all of them reasonably safe and legitimate – even lawyering.

    Trashy – Again, I don’t think it needs a lot of special legislation. As I said to Geewits, there is already a lot of labour-related legislation in place. We just need to allow prostitutes the right to be covered under them. As to your other question, I might ask why a mother would name her child John?

    James – Well there are a lot of legitimate pimps out there already in other professions only they’re called “agents”. If we shift our thinking about prostitution and start thinking of it as a legitimate job with all the same pitfalls, benefits, regulations, etc. as any other job then we can begin to figure out how to make that happen. Perhaps some prostitutes will prefer to work with an agent and some will prefer to work independently. That doesn’t mean the agent is going to be wearing a big velvet hat and drugging and beating his client regularly.

    LGS – Like I said, there is the possibility of exploitation in every profession. Restaurant workers are terribly exploited for instance, but people still do it because they can make good money. I think we make way too much of a thing over the “exploitation” aspect. Or the “unsavory” aspect of the job. There are lots of jobs I personally wouldn’t want to do and wouldn’t want my child to do, but a lot of people do them. They serve a purpose, it gives them a paycheque so they find a way to go to work every day and do what needs to be done. I think Sweden is a little crazy thinking they’re going to eliminate prostitution or even that they’ve actually reduced it by 40%. I think it’s just changed so it’s not so visible to statistics. It’s not the oldest profession for nothing.

    Milan – The only purpose I can see that these “sweeps” serve is that it looks good politically so all those voters who complain about “undesirables” in their communities will be happy.

  9. On the note about things you can pay people to do… a pornographer can pay two people to have sex if he’s recording them, but if he pays one of them to have sex with him, he’s a john. I’ve always found this to be inconsistent.

    – RG>

  10. Again the crux of this whole issue is that prostitution is not illegal. “Communicating for the purposes of…” however is.Other great experiments along similar lines was the American “Prohibition” – a.k.a. the Volstead Act. The consumption was legal but it seemed like any and all activities surrounding it were made illegal. Thus is Canadian prostitution laws. You can rent your genitals out but can’t negotiate a price, or advertise the fact that you have “Love for sale”.
    The big issue as you’ve stated are “street walkers and In-calls”. Well I am in agreement that street walking is wrong and that some effort has to be made to remove them from the streets. They are a blight in their fishnet stockings, tube tops and “come-f**k-me boots” as well as being the most at risk segment of that group. The need for protection from a dangerous element of our society breeds a dangerous class known as the “pimp”. But one has to ask why are “In-calls” illegal? In any society that doesn’t have backward sexual mores they are herded up into a “red-light district” and regulated including health inspections.
    Its funny that Nevada has legal brothels however you would think that they would be near “Sin City” – but county regulations forbid it. “Adult entertainers” are however readily available.
    Lets face it – Prostitution is the second oldest profession around – the oldest being “soliciting for the purposes” and nothing is ever going to change that. Its time that we get off the moral “high ground” face reality and accept it. Birds do it, Bees do it…..

  11. What an unusually insightful post! Usually anything to do with sex work is the same old “bad bad evil bad”. I was proud to help with a fundraiser for POWER in May.

    Whenever I hear people complain that street-level sex work bring “drugs and gangs and a plague of locusts” to their area, I always ask them “Have you actually spoken to the sex workers about your concerns?” No one has ever replied “yes”, for easier to demonize people than actually, you know, speak to them.

  12. Milan – The only purpose I can see that these “sweeps” serve is that it looks good politically so all those voters who complain about “undesirables” in their communities will be happy.

    I’d submit that if a majority of people in that community see it as undesireable, and a person or persons is/are elected on the basis of wanting to do something about that particularly undesireable aspect, that’s not an invitation by the electorate to legitimise it. Rather, it’s a view that the community, if not as a whole then by majority, wants that particular aspect–if not stamped out entirely–minimised as much as humanly possible. Even if it ends up being decriminalised and/or legalised, it will likely still be viewed by those not actually doing it as undesireable. And, there will probably still be a push to, if not remove it completely, minimise it.

  13. James – exactly! Just like the Jews, gays, and gypsies! They should be minimized–if not stamped out entirely–so long as someone is elected on a platform to do something about them. Or am I misinterpreting your comment?

    – RG>

  14. Friar – Ya, that seemed like a lot to me too, but hey what do we know?

    Grouchy – We are allowed to pay people to do all sorts of crazy shit, but not sex.

    Lebowski – It’s an interesting line they’ve drawn in the sand, for sure. I don’t really understand the reasoning.

    Pat – Thanks and good for you for pitching in. I reckon the townspeople need someone to wave their pitchforks at and PCdom has put everyone else out of range.

    James – First, I’m pretty sure the majority of people aren’t interested in anything that doesn’t affect them directly. Second, you are surely not suggesting that just because the apparent majority believes something to be right then it IS right? Because if that were true, we’d still have slavery and women would never have gotten the vote and the disabled and mentally ill would be stashed away in institutions instead of being allowed to roam free amongst “normal” people, scaring us and inconveniencing us. Letting mobs decide what or who is desirable to live amongst is kind of a frightening prospect, don’t you think?

    Grouchy – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head!

  15. I think the safety of the prostitutes should come before everything else, and so I agree with you that it should be de-stigmatized and regulated like any other job.
    But I do think there is a place for john school too for people who commit other crimes in conjunction with prosititution, i.e. exploiting underage workers, violence etc. I don’t have any research to back this up, but I had thought it was somewhat effective in stopping people for doing it again. Not sure though… someone out there must know?

  16. @RG, @Xup: funny you should bring that up, considering at the moment we’re imposing the majority view of the western world on the eastern, who clearly doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in it. But, yes, at one time that’s exactly where it went. I’d even go so far to say there didn’t used to publicly be such thing as a non-Christian in this part of the world. Yes, eventually, majority opinion ended up changing–otherwise, realisticly, we’d still be in precisely the situation the two of you describe. I’d submit some areas might benefit from a tiny nudge in the other direction–but that’s a point for another time, possibly on my own blog.

    Back to the original point of the post, though, for as long as the profession’s been around–and I’d submit there are those who wouldnt even really call it a profession, regardless to the changing of people’s views on sex in general, the act of taking money for it was never really looked on overly favourably. It’s more than likely not safe–neverminding the violence, and–though my opinion may not be shared here–I think it’s actually quite degrading to both parties involved, for more than a few reasons. I have a sneaking suspicion, though it would be interesting to see a real-world application of it here, the government that proposes decriminalising it–at least for the immediate future, anyway–will probably find itself on the other side of the house pretty quickly. That’s why you don’t hear the liberals, or the NDP for that matter, coming out in support of either decriminalising or legalising that industry–despite the fact both have at one point or another come out in favour of decriminalising pot, not that that got anywhere either.

  17. It does seem like legalization is the way to go. I definitely agree that it would make it a safer job, mainly because there would be legal recourse if someone committed a crime against a legal sex worker. I mean, you can’t smack the hell out of the cashier at your grocery store. However, at this point since it all has to be done in the shadows you can beat up a prostitute (still assault but chances are super high they’re not going to run to the police). Also, I think it should be taxed like any other service. The only regulation I think they need to add is something about being tested regularly for STDs and having a certificate available for display regarding status or cleanliness; like restaurants display health inspection info.

  18. this is going to sound strange but i dreamt a brilliant comment to this post last night and now i can’t remember it… had something to do with legalizing it. not sure why it is illegal though – i think it’s a really puritanical notion to deny that sex is a natural need, and some people have to buy it. i’m not a farmer, i need food, so i buy it. i know it gets more complicated with sex, but you get my drift, and i think regulating it would help a lot of people out.

  19. Finola – I don’t think john school is the place for people exploiting underage workers and those committing violence – those are criminals and need to be prosecuted accordingly. All john school does is sit them down for a day and tells them how by buying sex they’re exploiting women and what a terrible life these prostitutes have and how it’s bad to buy sex, etc. At least that’s my understanding.

    James – If you click that link I provided “Sacred prostitute” you’ll see that the profession was quite legitimate and valued in many societies and cultures for centuries. Also, many of the reforms that have taken place in areas like Grouchy and I describe did not take place because the majority demanded it. They happened because a few caring, intelligent people worked their asses off to change the minds and attitudes of the majority. We didn’t all just spontaneously decide one day that we would stop throwing homosexuals in prison. That took decades of work by a few – and then by a few more…and a few more until attitudes generally started to shift and then legislation followed.

    Kimberly – I don’t think prostitutes would have any problem with regular health care. How do we make sure the johns are clean and disease-free too, though? Also, I sometimes WOULD like to smack a cashier. But I don’t.

    Meanie – If you think of your brilliant comment, write it down and post it! Not that the one you did post isn’t brilliant. The odd thing is that prostitution is technically legal in Canada – it’s just all the stuff involved with actually doing it that’s illegal.

  20. I don’t want prostitution to be a free for all.

    I think it should be legalized and strictly controlled to protect the women who want to be there from violence (from pimps and customers).

    I want prostitutes to have access to medical, legal and social aid that is geared to their specific needs without stigma.

    I want children and teens rigorously protected from explotation in the sex trade.

    It isn’t as simple as saying that sex trade workers are all happy well adjusted workers who are just providing a service.

    Not when so many – what 95%? – say they want help to get out of it. ALL taxes gathered from the sex trade should be funnelled into services that help those 95% have a life that isn’t so dangerous.

    I lived in lowertown on the edge of the market. I know how tightly it is tied to drug addiction.

    Sweeps accomplish only one thing – for a week or so you aren’t finding condoms in your backyard, being pestered by johns while you wait for your child’s school bus. It doesn’t do anything about the drug debris, needles etc you find in your window wells.

  21. Interesting post and comments. I’m in favour of legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, sex work. Sex workers are further marginalized, stigmatized, and endangered by the existing laws. The status quo forces them into the shadows, leaving them vulnerable to violence and exploitation by pimps, clients and cops.

    Legalization and harm reduction – that’s the reasonable and practical approach.

  22. I understand what you are saying, but I actually think that john school could end up being more effective than the usual punishments in response to crimes. Reform should be about understanding what the victim goes through, which in theory prevents the accused from committing the same crime again. It just makes sense to me that the human side is the focus; the usual slap on the wrist may not work as well.

  23. @Finola – in these baseless sweeps, the johns and the sex workers both ARE the victims, and that’s the problem.

    I also find it interesting how heterosexist these discussions are, not all sex workers are women. I highly recommend to anyone who wants to form an informed opinion on this to contact POWER here in Ottawa or Stella in Montreal.

  24. Mudmama – I don’t think I was saying that sex trade workers are all happy well-adjusted people, did I? I would certainly disagree with that if I did ever say it. But I do agree with the rest of your assertions.

    Zoom – Exactly! Seems so sensible. Why can’t we at least begin to implement something like that?

    Finola – I don’t know why there needs to be any punishment for johns or prostitutes? The point is to take the “victim/abuser” paradigm out of the equation. So that people who want to buy sex can buy it from people who want to sell it – without any of it devolving into crime, abuse or all the other stuff that has been hanging its hat on the industry.

    Pat – I think the discussions tend toward the heterosexist because that’s where the focus by law enforcement seems to be as well. Female prostitutes and male johns are what the sweeps have been all about. We, as a society, also seem to have trouble thinking of men as victims – not just in the sex trade but in general, too.