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Lesbian prostitute speaks out against Winnipeg bawdy house bust

"The laws do more harm than good," says Katrina Caudle

SAFE SPACE. Katrina Caudle says Canada's bawdy house laws need to change, to allow prostitutes to work together in a safe space.

A lesbian sex worker who was arrested in a sensational prostitution bust in Winnipeg says that coming out to her mother as a hooker was harder than coming out as a dyke.

“She was completely mortified,” says Katrina Caudle.

But the tiny 23-year-old says she has no regrets about her role in the affair. “Sex is such an important part of being healthy and happy,” Caudle says. “I don’t understand the stigma of seeing a professional about it.”

Last summer, Winnipeg police raided a home on a leafy, middle-class street and charged eight people — including Caudle — with running a prostitution ring. The bust made front-page headlines in the city because the owners of the house were a married couple with two teenaged kids.

Local media delighted in interviewing the family’s neighbours, most of whom didn’t know what was going on behind closed doors. Some residents expressed disgust, while others said they weren’t bothered.

Caudle says the parents, who were among the eight charged, took great pains to ensure that she and the other prostitutes were only working during the day, when the teens were at school. “I’ve never met kids of that age who were closer to their parents.”

Caudle, who has always been close to her own parents, grew up in a middle-class home on the other side of town from Stiles Street, where she was arrested.

Her short career as a prostitute came about somewhat unexpectedly. After she graduated from high school, Caudle took on various low-wage jobs until she landed at a massage clinic. There, she met a woman who asked if she’d like to pursue prostitution.

“I like sex,” Caudle says, “and I feel like sex is really important to people’s health. I wanted to do something I could grow at that had meaning to me.”

Caudle says her clients (all of whom were male) paid $220 an hour for her services. She kept $160 for herself and gave the rest to the couple, for operating costs. Caudle rarely had more than one client per day.

“I never felt scared,” she says. “I was really surprised by how normal everybody was. Even clients I didn’t click with were really nice to me.”

She says most of the guys she saw told her they felt insecure about their sexual performance. “Those are things we all feel sometimes,” she says. So she tried to make them feel better by giving advice. “Maybe the best thing we can do is let them know.”

One of the best things about the job, Caudle says, was working alongside other prostitutes, under the same roof. “It was really awesome for me,” she says. “We knew we had the same clients, so we shared information and tips on how to make the session more enjoyable for them.” She says the woman who ran the house even did some professional training, with demonstrations on her husband.

Caudle knew what she was doing was against the law. Still, she was surprised last June when police showed up at the house. “It was kind of surreal,” she says.

Police interrogated her and the others for hours. A few months later, though, the cops quietly dropped the charges against everyone except the couple.

Caudle hasn’t gone back to prostitution since the day of the raid. “I don’t want to get arrested again,” she says. But if she ever returns to sex work, she’d like to take on female clients, too. In the meantime, she has helped raise money and awareness for a local organization called We Swear, which advocates for sex workers’ rights.

“The laws, the way they are now, do more harm than good,” says Caudle. For instance, she feels that a “bawdy house,” even though it’s illegal, is a good thing, because it allows prostitutes to work together in a safe space. On the streets or the internet, Caudle says, “you don’t have a sense of your territory, your comfort zone.”

Authorities should “create systems that are healthy for workers and clients,” Caudle says, instead of trying to pretend that prostitution will go away.

“I don’t find anything wrong with what I was doing.”