Police-reported crimes for sex workers fell by more than half in past decade: StatCan
SASKATOON -- Police-reported crimes related to sex workers fell by more than half from 2010 to 2019, which was largely driven by police refraining from going after certain types of work, according to Statistics Canada. But advocates say sex workers continue to be oppressed under the law.
New data shows police-reported crimes related to the sex trade declined from 2,904 in 2010 to 1,298 in 2019 -- 95 per cent of these crimes were related to stopping traffic or communicating for the purposes of sex.
The bulk of this 55 per cent decline occurred before federal laws went into effect in 2014 which changed how sex work is criminalized. Instead of criminalizing people who sold sex outright, the law instead went after people who purchased or benefited financially from the sexual services of others.
Following the enact of the Stephen Harper-era’s “end demand” legislation in 2014, which was otherwise known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), the new data showed fewer women were being charged for sex and a notable rise in reported crimes relating to the purchasing of sex.
Anna-Louise Crago, a researcher from Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity and a sex worker advocate, said the numbers were a trend in the right direction, particularly when it came to a reduction in the rate of homicides for sex workers.
“But the rate of homicide is still alarmingly high,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview, noting there’s no explanation as to why there was that reduction. She said the trend appears to coincide with the trend of more sex workers moving to online spaces.
She also cautioned against the notion that the overall figures show that oppression against those in the sex trade industry has ended.
“The current ‘End Demand’ legislation is still creating an antagonistic relationship between sex workers and police,” she said.
Crago, who’s also a Banting Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Ottawa, and other advocates have long criticized 2014’s PCEPA and noted that nearly one-third of sex workers who are in danger won’t call 911 out of a fear of interacting with police. Her research team also found Indigenous sex workers were twice as likely to report not being able to call 911.
“It's also important to note that there might be other means, whether it's bylaw infraction or other things that are being targeted at sex workers outdoors, that are not being captured in that StatCan report,” she said.
Advocates have long argued that while provisions in the Criminal Code make workers immune from prosecution, they don’t protect them from arrest. Other advocacy groups, such as Global Network of Sex Work Projects, have criticized similar legislation in other countries.
RATES DROPPED FOR WOMEN ACCUSED, CHARGED
The new data showed the proportion of women accused in police-reported sex trade-related crimes significantly dropped from 42 per cent in 2010, to 22 per cent in 2014, to only 5 per cent in 2019.
And when it came to who went on to be charged, that number dropped from 86 per cent in 2010 to 57 per cent in 2019.
After the PCEPA became the law of the land, men accounted for 93 per cent of people accused of sex-related crimes. This compares to men making up just 60 per cent during the five-year period prior to the PCEPA.
When looking at sheer totals, the number of men accused of obtaining sexual services from an adult or from a minor spiked from 132 in the five years prior to the new law, to 2,489 in the five years after. One out of nine men charged in these instances were criminally charged.
The most common punishment was a fine, which was given to more than three-quarters of convicted men. However, it should be noted that a fine is the mandatory minimum sentence for this offence.
MORE THIRD PARTIES CHARGED
Crago did point out that sex workers could still be charged as third parties.
As mentioned before, the 2014 laws more strongly went after third parties, primarily men, who were involved in profiting from the sex work of others.
The new Statistics Canada data showed that from 2010 to 2014, 472 men were accused in incidents involving a so-called profiting offence.
“In the five years following the PCEPA (2015 to 2019), the number of men accused in these incidents increased to 667,” the report said.
But Crago also noted that when sex workers need to get out of dangerous situations, they often rely on other female sex workers in managerial roles who have shared expenses. And Crago said these other workers can still be charged with sex-related offences as third parties, leaving sex workers who work with or for them more vulnerable. That’s part of the reason why Crago and others continue call for the full decriminalization of sex work.