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Vancouver Rape Relief’s Data on Prostitution

November 2020

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter’s services are available to any woman who has experienced any form of male violence including wife battering, incest, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and prostitution.

We provide support to women who have been assaulted by johns, pimps or men pressuring them into prostitution. We assist women who are currently being prostituted, women who are trying to escape prostitution, and women who are no longer in prostitution but still struggle with its long-lasting emotional and physical impacts.

The following data is based on our work with 100 women who called our crisis line in the last two years and told us that they were at the time, or in the past, in prostitution.

Of the women in prostitution who called Vancouver Rape Relief (VRR) 24% were 15 or younger when they entered prostitution. Furthermore, 43% of the women who called VRR were “underage” (younger than 18) when they entered prostitution. Most often, the girls resorted to prostitution because of on-going sexual assault by their father (in some cases the father also pimped the girl) or grooming by an adult “boyfriend,” who often gave them drugs to make sure they stayed dependent on him. Most girls in these situations were “runaways” from abusive homes and/or raised in foster care. 

Indigenous women are only 3% of women in Metro Vancouver, yet they make up 27% of the women in prostitution who called Vancouver Rape Relief. Black women are only 1.2% of women in Metro Vancouver, yet they make up 14% of the women in prostitution who called VRR. This data reflects the intersection between racism and sexism in prostitution. While all women are vulnerable to male violence, the rate of victimization for racialized women is even greater. This pattern is also reflected in the data of our work with battered women, as 72% of the women who stay in our transition house are women of colour or Indigenous women.

In 10% of the cases, the mother of the woman who was in prostitution was the one who first reached out to us. In another 10% of the cases, a female friend of the woman in prostitution asked for our support in taking her friend to seek medical care after being injured by a john or for attempting to end her life. In other cases, a female friend asked us to help get her friend back home. In a few cases, a woman who was a stranger to the woman in prostitution saw her on the street injured, undressed and/or distressed and connected her to us.

Of the women in prostitution who called Vancouver Rape Relief, 65% disclosed their addiction to alcohol or drugs. Some women told us that they were first dependent on drugs (most often as a coping response to past sexual violence) and turned to prostitution as a means to pay for the drugs. Other women told us that they started using drugs or alcohol frequently as a way to cope with the experience of being in prostitution. Some said that they can’t engage in the act of prostitution without being high. 

A full 48% of women in prostitution who called Vancouver Rape Relief disclosed being controlled/coerced by a pimp. Often the pimp was their male partner and sometimes, the father of their children. We’ve observed that pimps often sustain their power over women with physical violence and/or by facilitating and maintaining women’s addiction.

The primary request of 45% of the women in prostitution who called VRR was a safe shelter. This reflects the need for safety from a pimp or a john, lack of means to rent a place and the need for support from other women. Support in exiting prostitution is a common primary request as well (27% of calls). Emotional support and money are often secondary requests of women in prostitution.

Women who are no longer in prostitution often suffer from post-traumatic symptoms, regardless of how long it has been since they exited. They call Vancouver Rape Relief for peer counselling and support groups.

Often women who are no longer in prostitution are still vulnerable to male violence. They call Vancouver Rape Relief seeking safety from a current abusive male partner or from johns who still threaten and harass them. We offer these women safe shelter, and accompaniment and advocacy with the police.

Many women who are no longer in prostitution are struggling with poverty. We help them with money for food, clothes, transportation, and bills. When they need things like furniture or toys for their children, we put a call out and these needs are quickly met by our community.

In recent years, we’ve noted an increase of calls from women who have paid jobs but chose prostitution as an “easy way to make money.” These women told us that this illusion was shattered very fast (sometimes after their first encounter with a john) and they were quick to leave prostitution. We also received some calls from young women who entered prostitution by engaging with “sugar daddies” and later on with escort agencies, ending with street prostitution. We have only anecdotal testimonies and not comprehensive data on this.

The invisible data—the johns. The women who are in, or were in prostitution, often tell us about particular johns: men who were so violent that they had to go to the hospital after the interaction, men that when the women said “no,” raped them, men who refused to pay after the sexual act, men who wanted to re-enact violent pornographic scenes or rape and incest “fantasies,” men who left them unconscious in a hotel room or on a bench in the park, and men who kept harassing them after they left prostitution with endless calls and threats and posting videos online taken without permission and against their will.  But these stories do not quantify the real data, we know that almost every woman in prostitution encounters dozens, hundreds, and sometimes thousands of men depending on the situation and the number of years that she had to endure prostitution. We do not know the actual numbers of men who buy sex. All we know is that there are many and if it wasn’t for the many men who buy sex, there wouldn’t be prostitution.          

Feminist Demands from the Canadian State:

  • Providing Guaranteed Livable Income to women to protect them from resorting to prostitution and allowing women to exit prostitution.
  • Providing women with women-only detox and recovery services on demand.
  • Providing women with comprehensive feminist exiting services.
  •  The Criminal Justice System must enforce the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Police, Crown and Court must uphold the law and criminalize men who sell, buy and profit from the sexual exploitation of women in prostitution.

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