The Oldest Game - Creating A Newsgame about Sex Work in Canada

ConStellation’s “Working Conditions Special” – a resource for scenario building

Stella is an invaluable resource to sex workers in Montreal.  This organization provides a variety of services to sex workers, and is also very involved in public education campaigns and advocacy.  Stella publishes ConStellation twice a year, a magazine created by and made for sex workers. Recently, we were recommended their “Working Condition Special” of ConStellation, published in 2009.

This edition shares a wealth of information about the legal, health and financial issues pertinent to sex work.  One of this issue’s most important features is that it shares the stories and advice of sex workers working in a variety of areas, including escort services, massages parlors, exotic dancing, the webcam industry, etc… These real-life stories give great insight into the daily concerns of sex workers.

I will outline just a few of the issues brought up in this edition of ConStellation that we might consider exploring further in our game:

Sex Work in Toronto: Third Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the third.

Street prostitution in Toronto was concentrated around Jarvis and Wellesley, Kingston Rd. and Parkdale (Crawford, 2009). However, police raids and gentrification have pushed sex workers to other areas of the city as well, “including Browns Line, Danforth Ave., Weston Rdl, Eglinton Ave. W. and Steeles Ave” (Crawford, 2009, n.p.). It is estimated that only 5-10% of sex workers in Toronto are street based (STAR, 2006).

Toronto police report that sex workers in the Jarvis and Church area can earn as much as $300 per client (Doolittle 2009). “Jarvis is one of the few areas in the city where higher-end prostitutes work outdoors” (Doolittle, 2009, n.p.). They also report that southeast of Jarvis and Wellesley Sts is a common work area for transgendered prostitutes, while there is a concentration of drug-addicted sex workers working along River, Shuter and Sherbourne Sts, who “earn as little as $20 for sex acts” (Doolittle, 2009, n.p.). However, the recent recession has decreased earnings for many different kinds of sex workers, including those who work indoors, forcing some to work in more high-risk situations to earn a living (Crawford, 2009).

Toronto regulates exotic massage, exotic dancing and other adult entertainment through city bylaws (STAR, 2006). Sex workers working in these areas find the city’s license fees to be discriminatory, set much higher for them then other occupations. The city also makes it illegal for licensed ‘Body Rub Parlours’ to lock their public-access doors. Though perhaps intended to increase safety by giving police better access to these businesses, it also leads to “increased surveillance and potential arrest” (STAR, 2006, p.24).

In the first few years after it was passed, police made an effort to evenly apply the communication law to both sex workers and clients in Toronto (STAR, 2006). While the police found targeting clients to be effective in decreasing the number of street prostitutes, they also found that many of these workers moved into escort agencies, “increas[ing] the number of pimps and their ability to dominate the prostitution trade” (Larsen, 1996, p.33). Police shifted their focus to escort agencies, only to displace sex workers back to the streets, and then returned to targeting female street prostitutes, only pushing them to different areas of the city. Their failed tactics proved that tougher penalties on sex workers do not in fact diminish street prostitution.

Maggie’s “has reported numerous incidents of police either physically abusing or condoning the abuse of prostitutes” in Toronto (Davis, 1994, n.p.). 

The first John School in Canada was established in Toronto in 1996, soon to be followed by other Canadian cities including Ottawa, Hamilton and Vancouver (Wortley, Fischer & Webster, 2002). Most who go the John school have been caught by undercover police officers posing as prostitutes. The “victim-oriented presentations seek to educate the Johns- through a confrontational shaming ritual about the damage and pain prostitution-related behavior has caused” (Wortley, et al., 2002, p.373).

Migrant sex workers are concentrated in urban centers in Canada, but are particularly present in Toronto. “The city is also used as a jump off point (taking advantage of Canada’s notoriously lax immigration system) for the sex trade in the rest of North America” (Mackenzie Institute, 2000, n.p.). It is estimated that there are “several thousand migrants working in Toronto’s strip clubs, massage parlours, escort services, underground brothels and street prostitution”, and that that 75% of exotic dancers working in Toronto are foreign nationals (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009). “ [T]he information coming from the club owners suggested that foreign women made up to 75% of all exotic dancers in the country, while Canadian dancers argued that this situation was unique to Toronto” (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009, p.37).

In 1997, there was a wave of raids on strip clubs and apartments that targeted migrant sex workers (Brock, Gillies, Oliver & Mook, 2000). This tactic continues to be used by Toronto police.  Targeting migrant sex workers is “being used as a rationale to clamp down on prostitution generally” (Brock, et al., 2000, p.89).

While the media portrayed these “places as dens of female sexual slavery and organized crime” (Brock, et al., 2000, p.87), the reality of migrant sex workers is far more complex. While service organizations have reported “dozens of cases of trafficked women”, they represent a minority of migrant sex workers (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009).  However, migrant sex workers face a complex set of challenges.

“Studies conducted in various parts of the world consistently show that migrant sex workers remain largely outside of the legal, medical and social services structures of the host nations. Poor language skills, usually undocumented status, limited understanding of foreign laws and regulations, absence of support networks, and subjection to xenophobia result in the extreme marginalization of migrants, putting them at a greater risk of abuse and exploitation. Migrants are also more likely to be affected by the negative social dynamics of the sex trade, marked by discrimination on the basis of race, nationality, class, age, and specific place in the industry’s hierarchy” (Timoshkina & McDonald, 2009, p.8). While there are a growing number of agencies in Toronto that serve migrant sex workers, many lack the specialized training and the needed resources to best serve this community.

Advocacy organizations for sex workers have existed in Toronto for some time (STAR, 2006).  In 1983, the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes was established in Toronto.  Soon after, Maggie’s opened its door, offering support resources and advocacy for sex workers in the city. The Exotic Dancers Alliance (EDA) was formed in 1996, followed by the Exotic Dancers Association of Canada (EDAC) in 2000.

Sex Work In Montreal: First Location Report

We’re considering possible locations for gameplay: here’s the first.

The intersection of Ste. Catherine and St. Laurent was once considered the heart of Montreal’s red light district, but sex workers have been pushed out due to gentrification and now work in more dangerous, isolated areas of Montreal (The Canadian Press, 2012). For example, there has been a rise in the number of prostitutes working in Ahuntsic and in the borough of Hochelaga-Maisonneuve (Plourde 2012; Normandin 2012). Stella, a Montreal community organization serving sex workers, reports that gentrification in Montreal has also led to a shortage of affordable housing for sex workers (Stella, 2007).

Based on data collected in 1991, Shaver (1996) found that there were four female street workers to every male street worker in Montreal. Women worked for an average of twenty male clients per week, while male street workers worked for ten.  Male sex workers earned $600-$800 per week, while the women collected $1800-$2000 per week. 50%-70% of street workers in Montreal and Toronto worked for themselves.

Sex workers in Montreal are discriminated against by police, who in the past have used jaywalking and loitering tickets as a way to restrict and penalize sex workers (Stella 2007). Stella supported sex workers in fighting these tickets in October 2001. However, the judge’s ruling was problematic. He mandated for police to instead use the criminal code and municipal zoning restrictions to arrest and penalize sex workers. Consequently, arrests rose from 48 in 2001 to 825 arrests in 2004. The Quadrilateral Restraining Order is particularly challenging for sex workers in Montreal. “At times, a zoning restriction is given to a sex worker for the entire island of Montreal!” (Stella, 2007).  Sometimes banned from their own neighborhoods or from areas where they access essential services, sex workers are often forced to break the conditions of the order. Furthermore, these zoning restrictions lead prostitutes to work in unfamiliar areas, putting their safety at risk. In the early 1980s, Montreal created a bylaw outlawing prostitution, but the Supreme Court of Canada later ruled it to be unconstitutional (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006).

Larsen (1996) found that Montreal police used surveillance as a central tactic to find and arrest prostitutes and clients, instead of entrapment techniques used in other major Canadian cities. He also concluded that Montreal police tried to maintain an equal proportion of male to female arrests in relation to prostitution (sex workers and clients).

Montreal is renowned in North America for its sex industry (Montpetit, 2012). It is estimated that Montreal has a much higher number of sex-related businesses than other cities in Canada, with 30 strip clubs and 200 massage parlours.

In 2012, mayor Real Menard announced that he wanted to create a “zone of tolerance” for street prostitutes in his borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisoneuve (Normandin, 2012). While the majority of Montreal residents surveyed were in support of the plan, the city condemned the idea.  Similar initiatives have emerged in the past, such as Project Pilot, but were never implemented.

Stella was created in 1995, and was the first community resource for sex workers in the city (Sex Trade and Advocacy Research, 2006). Other Canadian cities had similar resources available to sex workers a decade earlier.

Stella reports that there are 50 to 60 cases of violence against sex workers annually in Montreal, but only 4 or 5 of these cases are brought to court (Stella, 2007).