Findings confirm that the current prostitution laws, often presented as protecting sex workers, work against their interests and increase sex workers’ vulnerability to violence, by targeting these third parties.
The study, Rethinking Management in the Adult and Sex Industry, was led by Christine Bruckert, uOttawa criminology professor, in partnership with the Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of New Brunswick. It involved a total of 122 interviews in four regions (southern and central Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes) seeking to shed light on the sex industry. The report, Beyond Pimps, Procures and Parasites: Mapping Third Parties in the Incall/Outcall Sex Industry, draws on interviews with 50 third parties and 27 sex workers, who work in escort agencies, massage parlours and brothels.
“We hope that our findings might bring attention to the unintended consequences of prostitution laws, especially since the Supreme Court of Canada will be addressing the constitutionality of Canada’s prostitution laws, including those that criminalize living on the avails of prostitution, in a hearing on June 12,” said Professor Bruckert.
The research findings challenge many of the stereotypes about the third parties involved in commercial sex transactions, who facilitate, organize, supervise and control the work of sex workers.
Contrary to popular belief, the working relationships and the relations of power between sex workers and third parties are variable: some sex workers are hired by agencies, others work in collaboration with associates and some are contractors hired by sex workers. Third parties fulfill a wide range of roles; they work as personal assistants, drivers, security staff, web designers, agents, event planners, location providers, mentors, receptionists and managers. Moreover the distinction between third parties and sex workers is far from clear-cut; many of the male, female and trans third parties interviewed had sex work experience. Sex workers themselves are vulnerable to being charged as third parties.
The research also looks at sex workers’ safety. According to sex workers, third parties provide useful and important services that increase their safety, security and wellbeing. In contrast, criminalization undermines sex workers security in a multitude of ways, by preventing clear communication with clients, encouraging wilful blindness on the part of third parties, creating more pressure to satisfy clients and excluding sex workers from protective labour legislation.
The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).