They’re the worst of the worst.
Men who go beyond the crime of paying women for sex — ensuring they remain addicted to drugs, partners and the risks of becoming homeless and impoverished.
The worst of the worst johns — or men seeking prostitutes — also rape, beat, kidnap and, at times, kill sex workers.
Bad johns, they’re called. Or bad dates. Like other cities, London has its share of bad johns. But unlike other cities, London has failed — despite several years of talk and reports — to create a bad date hotline and bad date list to help sex workers.
“The idea just kept going into dead space for some reason. I don’t know how else to describe it,” Cass Wender, a support worker at the My Sisters Place shelter, said.
One possible reason: the division among agencies in London over how to deal with the sex trade.
- One the one side, those who favour decriminalization of sex workers and focus on harm reduction, such as a bad date list.
- On the other side, those who believe the sex trade must remain a criminal offence and the focus should be to get women out of it.
“It colours everything,” Barb MacQuarrie, community director of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence Against Women and Children at Western University, said of the division.
“I am concerned about our community response on the bad john list. We have a great deal of difficulty working on supporting sex workers. We can’t find common ground.”
Although she agrees there’s a divide, Louise Pitre of the Sexual Assault Centre of London thinks in this case agencies dropped the initiative, after considering a 2011 report on the subject, because city hall decided to take the lead.But Pitre said she’s not sure where the proposal sits at city hall. “I haven’t heard what’s going on with that. I’m not really 100% sure where things are.” But there’s no mystery, said Jan Richardson, manager of special populations for London.
The city spent this year doing preparation work, listening to community agencies in two forums on the sex trade, and will include street-level sex trade workers in a plan on homelessness being discussed next year, she said. Richardson said she expects a bad date line and list will be part of the talks but couldn’t say if one would be created. “It’s not for me to say.” Despite the 2011 report and earlier discussions among agencies, Richardson said more research and consultation is needed to determine if a bad date line and list will be created.
Meanwhile, in London, at least 240 street-level sex workers, by the police count, and an unknown number of others, continue to work without a central bad date line and list that their counterparts in Toronto, Niagara and Ottawa have.
The line and list would give sex trade workers a way to report bad johns and share the information, Pitre said. “It puts power into the hands of sex workers to create more safety.” London’s lucky enough to have a police force and officer, Sgt. Lorna Bruce, dedicated to helping sex workers, she said. Even so, many sex workers don’t feel comfortable reporting bad johns to police. A 2011 report for the Sexual Assault Centre made suggestions on how a London bad date line and list would work, and was discussed by community agencies in July 2011.
“It wasn’t until your phone call that I went, ‘Oh, this has really fallen off the tracks,” Pitre said. “I need to re-open the door to that conversation.”
Another report, done with the help of My Sisters Place, released in October, also suggested sex trade workers would be helped by a city-wide bad date list and line providing information not only on bad johns, but also on bad drugs.
My Sisters Place began creating a bad john list about 18 months ago with information from sex workers, largely those who work the streets, that attend the shelter.
Sex workers generally don’t make frivoulous complaints, Wender noted.
“It is not one of those things they necessarily care to share, so I usually feel there is truth to the matter.”
There are only 10 bad johns on the list right now, but Wender suspects there are many more out there.
“I’m not going to get all the reporting. There are a lot of women who don’t access our services.”
Wender would like a bad john listed posted on agency websites across the city, constantly updated and available to all workers. “You act like a predator — aggressive, violent, sketchy — that’s how you get on the list,” Wender said. “Certain consumers, because they feel women are objects to be owned, because they paid for it, they think they can do whatever they feel like. There are predators that target sex trade workers because they know they can.”
- Bad date/john line: 24-hour number sex workers can call to report bad clients
- Bad date/john list: Descriptions of bad situations and clients, easily accessed by workers
According to reports:
- Female sex workers are 60 to 120 times more likely to be murdered than general public
- Half the cases involving murdered sex workers are unsolved in Canada, compared to 20% of other homicides
- 74% of female sex workers in Vancouver report customer violence to each other and agencies; only 21% go to police
- Gives sex workers control over personal safety, increases public and police awareness of dangers of sex work
According to 2011 London report:
- Option to be anonymous
- No direct association with police, but information shared when needed
- A real person answering the call
- Counselling availability
- Agency providing the hotline focuses on safety, not efforts to convince sex workers to leave trade
- Line creates a bad client list, regularly updated and posted in accessible areas known to sex workers
ONE LOCAL BAD JOHN LIST
- Posted on a door inside the My Sisters Place shelter on Dundas St.
- About 10 people on it at any time
- Includes description of the john, vehicle and alarming things he does
- Includes geographic area he prefers
- Latest list includes two men seeking teenaged girls
- If workers agree, or situation serious, information shared with police
- Police sporadically share bad john information with shelter
By Randy Richmond, The London Free Press
Thursday, December 13, 2012 1:05:53 EST PM