3 min

SFU study says prostitution should be legalized or decriminalized in Canada

The majority of sex buyers surveyed favour government regulation of sex industry

CANADIAN SEX BUYERS. With a working sample of 861 people, researchers believe the Johns' Voice study is the largest Canadian study of its kind and one of the largest internationally. Credit: John Crossen illustration

Prostitution should be legalized or decriminalized in Canada to protect both sex sellers and buyers, says a new study from BC’s Simon Fraser University.

Almost 80 percent of those surveyed in the Johns’ Voice study headed by Chris Atchison favour some form of government regulation of the sex industry.

A smaller number believe currently illegal bawdy houses should be allowed.

The study’s findings mirror an argument made in the BC Court of Appeal Jan 21–22 where a group of sex workers await a reserved decision on whether or not they can challenge the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws.

That case is a fight for safety, human rights and equality before the law, say members of the Sex Workers United Against Violence Society and former sex worker Sheryl Kiselbach, who brought the case.

The SFU study indicates eight percent of those who buy sex are gay, while 13 percent identify as bisexual.

And, of those people who buy sex, 65.7 percent say they never use a condom with their partner or regular sex partner.

Exactly the same percentage said they had been tested for AIDS, with the highest-cited reasons for testing being involvement in risky sex, sex accidents or high-risk sex partners. However, the majority, at 26.9 percent, said they had only been tested once.

Almost 79 percent said they hid their sex-buying habits from their partners.

Such findings make the case for government regulation of the sex industry, Vancouver prostitution rights activist Jamie Lee Hamilton contends.

She calls the findings “scary.”

“They are placing so many others at risk,” Hamilton says. “They have a duty and an obligation to be practising safe sex.” Decreasing the risk factors alone, Hamilton says, is a reason for decriminalization and regulation, but that must be arrived at through consultation, she adds.

“There would be that regulation for condom and dental dam use,” Hamilton says. The people most at risk without such controls are the women of the Downtown Eastside and drug-addicted male hustlers, she says.

With a working sample of 861 people, researchers believe the Johns’ Voice study is the largest Canadian study of its kind and one of the largest internationally.

Those involved in the study had paid for sex anywhere from once to 5,000 times, starting at an average age of 27.

The majority were employed full time with the largest group (25 percent) indicating an income of more than $100,000 a year. Fifty-six percent made $60,000 or more per year.

The largest group involved in buying sex was those in business, finance or administration, at 17 percent, followed by people in trades and transport at 12 percent, and next were those in the natural and applied science fields at 11.6 percent.

Of those, while 61.6 percent professed knowledge of Canada’s prostitution laws, further questioning indicated only 24.2 percent actually had a full knowledge of the laws.

Of the 841 buyers who answered questions about their preferences, 86.1 percent stated that they generally prefer to be with a female sex seller, 10.5 percent with a male, 1.3 percent with transgender or other, and the remaining 2.1 per cent had no preference.

Most sex buyers in the sample (32.7 percent) indicated a preference for partners between 21 and 30 years of age.

The majority of buyers stated that they prefer in-call, escort services and massage parlours. A minority of participants indicated a preference for brothels or micro-brothels, clubs, bars or online avenues.

In-call ads were the most popular way to meet at 32.8 percent. At 24.5 percent, sex buyers wanted to engage in multiple acts. At 29.6 percent, the highest number of acts was in in-call situations.

In terms of “attacks” on sex sellers, 29.4 percent said they had posted a negative review in an online forum, while one percent admit to raping or sexually assaulting a sex seller.

The vast majority of sex buyers said they neither drank (73.5 percent) nor did drugs (84.7 percent) prior to buying sex.

Much of the feedback received indicated anonymity is important to the sex-buying public, the study notes.

Johns’ Voice study.