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.
Formerly titled: Prostitution in east downtown Kitchener
Early one morning, a young woman stood in front of a mirror. She was grooming herself for the day ahead. A common scene across Waterloo Region. But in this case, the mirror was outside, built into the exterior of a building. As I sat in my breakfast meeting at the Morning Glory Cafe, I could only feel sad for her.
By the time I left, I was pretty certain how she earned her income. And in the subsequent weeks, it became even more obvious. Perhaps she was the same young woman that I once saw a guy across the street call out to and warn that there was a police officer down the street.
Prostitution has long been a problem on King Street East in downtown Kitchener. There have been some successes in addressing it over the years but there is more that needs to be done. Long associated with King and Cedar, the strip worked extends from about Scott Street to nearly Ottawa. It has even been spotted in nearby residential neighbourhoods.
A year ago, after circling the block many times, a car stopped to pick up a young woman in front of my house that is on a street lined with homes. It was mid-day on Easter Monday. Incredibly, my wife and three year old daughter were outside at the time. Shortly before, a neighbour was approached about a “date” as he left for work in the wee hours of the morning. On another morning, a girl was taking a stroll up a nearby residential street. Reports were made to the police and the memory of these incidents faded away.
With the return of the warm weather, the sex trade has again become more visible. Sometimes its not obvious because the woman is not dressed stereotypically but being all alone, the slow aimless walk and changing direction for no apparent reason are definitely indicators.
This past Thursday morning at about 8:30 a.m., shortly after leaving my home, I saw a young woman hanging out just between KW Counselling and the entrance to Tim Hortons. Her shear black top with no bra was clearly inappropriate to wear in public at nearly any time or place–and definitely not at that time or place. So I stood on the other side of the street and quietly waited until she knew I was there and that I would wait there until she moved away.
These incidents are more than simply anecdotal evidence as demonstrated by this week’s Kitchener Post article about a recent crackdown by police. As an aside, my initial tweet on this matter came before I read this article.
My heart aches for these women. I understand the complexity of the issues that can lead them to this line of work. The vast majority of these women, if not all of them, are not there because they are empowered to make money from their sexuality. They have not chosen this life except as the result of a series of other poor choices and quite likely a series of circumstances over which they had little if any control.
But that does not mean that I am willing to sit back and tolerate this activity so close to my home and my neighbourhood. So I tweeted that it was time to be in touch with the Sex Workers Action Network (SWAN) and the police.
I used the hash tag #notinmyneighbourhood that lead to accusations of NIMBYism. My response was that street prostitution did not belong in my neighbourhood, your neighbourhood or any neighbourhood. For obvious reasons, I care about the health of east downtown Kitchener and especially the women who live and work here though so naturally enough it is my primary concern. But I’m not looking to simply shift it from where I live to where someone else lives.
My concern is twofold
- I want a neighbourhood that people want to live in: Women should be able to walk in this neighbourhood without being concerned that someone might think they are a prostitute or try to engage their services. Children should be able to play outside or take a walk with their parents without seeing sex for sale. For existing neighbourhoods to flourish, these type of expectations must be possible. With the downtown targeted for intensification, this issue is also about the future of east downtown.
- The negative stigma attached to an area known for street prostitution: Deserved or not, areas known for prostitution must deal with the inevitable negative perceptions. These perceptions can affect the area’s ability to attract the diverse range of people to live there that makes a downtown flourish. They also make it difficult to attract new businesses and new and customers for new and existing businesses. My neighbourhood is a great place to live and do business and should not need to risk being stuck with a negative label. Good things are also happening in other nearby downtown neighbourhoods.
While I tend to focus on the women, I realize that the men who are their customers are also at fault. Unfortunately, the women are the most visible sign of prostitution. By standing on the street, they advertise that sex for sale. But I realize that a demand must exist for the service for it to be sold. Both sides must be addressed. One of my objectives with the post is to put a spotlight on the problem that will keep the men away.