My perspective on addressing prostitution in east downtown Kitchener

Sept. 21, 2013 Note: If you buy sex, please participate in a confidential online survey that hopefully will to inform the development of education, service delivery, policy, and legislation that better meets the needs of ALL people involved in Canada’s commercial sex industry. 

We need a solution to prostitution in east downtown Kitchener–or rather solutions. A short term one that addresses the immediate problem and longer term ones that make re-occurrences less likely. Crackdowns are fine but the root causes must be addressed. While enforcement of existing laws is part of the solution, I am not advocating for a tough on crime approach. Rather, I prefer a smart on crime approach along the lines of what the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council promotes. Having said that, I would prefer to not get bogged down in a debate about the legalization of prostitution. Nor about a woman’s right to choose to sell sex. Nor about our society’s views towards sexuality. While these issues are definitely a part of the big picture, they can not make an immediate impact. They point to long term solutions at best. I am confident that within the existing context that both immediate and longer term solutions are possible. What follows are my thoughts.

Call the police

Waterloo Region Police Services asked me to call their regular number 519-653-7700 and ask for dispatch so they can send an officer. I was told:

“… the most successful result for you can be attained by generating police calls for service. The uniform response will make the block less desirable for the sex trade workers and their clients. It will also generate information for us on who is active during what hours. It will also assist us in planning future enforcement initiatives.”

So everyone who lives or works in east downtown Kitchener should do exactly as requested. I’d suggest the same action is appropriate where this problem or other illegal activities are occurring anywhere in Waterloo Region.

Other actions Waterloo Region Police could take

I think the police could do more than bring in a specialized unit for enforcement initiatives that are consistent with its neighbourhood policing approach.  Some possible ideas are:

  • Placing a foot patrol office along the stretch of King between Frederick/Benton and Ottawa. A beat in this area would provide a consistent presence that can build relationships needed to prevent a range of crimes and to tell the difference between a woman selling sex and a woman living her life.
  • Making this section of King East a regular part of the patrols by the mounted police unit and the officers on bicycles. As demonstrated by one of my anecdotes, a visible police presence is a deterrence. This idea could be combined with my first. If the first is not possible, this idea becomes much more important. It should be easy to implement as the east end of the Iron Horse trail that both units patrol is right here.
There may be others.
Addressing the root causes

As I have said, enforcement is part of the solution but it is only a part of the solution. There are many other things that can be done to address the root causes and deal with those involved without involving the legal system. My initial idea to address the root causes is some sort of program to intervene to help give the women make a choice to get out if they want to and provide supports to do so. If the woman prefers her current line of work, the program could help them understand how street prostitution affects the neighbourhood and suggest. better ways of connecting them with customers. While something like the gang intervention program inREACH would be ideal, time is of the essence and pulling together a joint initiative and find funding take a long time. But with the presence of agencies nearby that deal with the type of issues present, surely some resources could be reallocated to put people on the street to offer help and help connect the women to it. I have reached out to the Sex Workers Action Network and I hope that they will have additional ideas on how the immediate problem can be addressed and what can be done to help those involved identify and choose alternatives.

The ultimate solution

The most important thing that any level of government can do to address prostitution and many other crimes. Take serious action to address poverty and prevent children from growing up in poverty. Which is why I strongly support the work of Opportunities Waterloo Region and its member agencies.


3 comments on “My perspective on addressing prostitution in east downtown Kitchener

  1. While I appreciate that increased police presence in the area may help to deter prostitutes from hawking their wares on the street, I don’t see it as a realistic solution to the problem.

    If it is true that the majority of sex workers are in the life because the have no other (actual or perceived) options, then increased police presence will serve only to move the problem to a different neighbourhood.

    It’s high time that society as a whole comes to grips with the fact that prostitution (like homelessness) is a largely inevitable facet of life in a big city.

    To that end, we need to stop villifying the lives of these women and give them the means to sell themselves in a safe, regulated environment that ensures that both salesperson and patron have the ability to complete the transaction without risk of bodily harm.

    Let’s face it – sex is harmless, and selling sex is no more an affront to our community than selling bread. The key difference is that current laws discriminate against those who sell the former, forcing them to do so in a way that lowers the image of our neighbourhoods and results in the unnecessary transmission of largely preventable disease.

    • Thanks for your thoughts Jonathan.
      In many ways, we agree. I wouldn’t expect an increased police presence to make sex workers disappear but it would help to keep it under control. And its only part of what I would like to see since I’d like to see a program that would help sex workers get out if they wanted or find a way to do as you suggest.

      Sex may be harmless but I’m not convinced sex for sale on our streets is. Many involved have other issues like drugs and the various forms of intervention I suggest are designed to help them while helping our downtown neighbourhood thrives as places where a diverse range of people want to live.

  2. […] My perspective on addressing prostitution in east downtown Kitchener […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: