Kids as young as 11 are paying the price for our
acceptance of the sex trade [cover]
Pimps are luring kids as young as 11 to sell themselves on Vancouver's meanest
streets -- by Tara Shortt
"We're planting bean seeds," says the young girl as she and her
boyfriend clear away broken bottles from a narrow trough of soil squeezed between two
concrete driveways. She is clearly tickled by her soil-tilling adventure, and she offers
to show me around the yard of her house. "These are my tulips," she says,
pointing to a half-dozen tufts of budless leaves, "but someone stole all the flowers.
"We planted beans here too," she says, pointing out nearby parallel
rows in the soil, rows that are mirrored all the way up her needle-tracked arm.
Corinn claims she is 18 years old, but she appears no older than 15. She says
she's been using IV drugs and working as a prostitute for more than a year. She claims she
shoots up at least 10 times every three hours and turns tricks to pay the bills. She lives
with two other young girls and her 30-year-old boyfriend, who is a drug dealer.
"I collapsed a lot of veins in my arms when I first started, because I
didn't know what I was doing," she says, "and when you collapse them, they're
gone. So now I have to use my hands."
Two years ago, Corinn lived in Surrey with her parents and her sister. She
played in the school band and worked at MacDonald's. Today there is little trace of her
former life. "It was my choice," she says, claiming that her parents know where
she is but that she doesn't want their help. "I think I just hit a turning point in
my life; I just wanted to do my own thing."
Her own thing happens to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. About
a month and a half ago, she had what is defined in the sex trade as "a bad
date." "The guy and me were fighting," she recounts without emotion.
"He said he paid me, but I knew he didn't, and he threw me out of the car and ran
over my leg. He broke my ankle."
Since that experience, Corinn says, she checks the "bad date list," a
monthly publication distributed to sex-trade workers by the Downtown Eastside Youth
Activities Society. It gives detailed descriptions of dangerous clients, and Corinn says
she believes that the list and her "good judgement of character" will keep her
"Caucasian male. 6 ft. Greyish-shite hair," reads one of the 10
descriptions on the list. "Looks to be in his late 40s. Very handsome man. Driving
2-door red convertible. This guy is going around asking for workers who are 12 years
"It used to be an oddity to find a kid on the street down here," says
Const. Dave Dixon, an 18-year veteran of policing the perennially poorest postal code in
the country. "It would be once every six months or so that you'd find a 12-year-old
girl. Now they're going around in groups." Dixon estimates that between 100 and 150
female sex-trade workers aged 12 to 18 regularly work the streets of the Downtown
Eastside, and that the numbers are increasing weekly.
"There are so many girls out there, they're giving it away for $20,"
he says. "So you get these guys driving around, dickering on the price, and they get
sex from a kid for $10.
"Meanwhile, kids are dying and younger kids are taking their places. It's
really frustrating, because you get to know these kids. I lose probably one a month."
Dixon often goes beyond the call of police duty. He routinely gives his pager
number to prostitutes in case of emergency, and consequently, he is often awakened in the
middle of the night.
The constable exemplifies a move toward enlightened policing in B.C., a trend
spearheaded by the Provincial Prostitution Unit, which was instigated in 1996 to target
pimps and johns who sexually exploit youth. The unit is a joint effort by the Ministry of
Attorney General, the Ministry for Children and Families, the RCMP and the Vancouver
police. One RCMP officer and two Vancouver police officers have spent the past two years
educating vice units across the province on how to deal with the issues surrounding child
"No person, even at 18 or 19, decides that they want to be a sex-trade
worker," says Cpl. John Ward, one of three police officers assigned to the PPU.
"They're not born; they're created. Today, the average age of entry into prostitution
is 14. By the time she's 20, she's in an arrested state of mental and social development.
She can turn tricks but she doesn't know how to open up her own bank account or write a
"There's a big shift in focus going on with police and social workers'
attitudes toward the working girls," Ward says "from looking at street kids as
juvenile delinquents to seeing them as they are, victims."
Sandy Jaremchuk works closely with the PPU. As a social worker for the Ministry
for Children and Families, she is an active combatant in the war against child
prostitution. She has helped set up -- working closely with police across the country --
what she hopes will serve as an early-warning system for kids in trouble.
"The earlier we can locate a child that's headed for the street in
Vancouver, the better chance we have of helping them out," Jaremchuk says. When a
child is reported missing in Ontario, for example, police or social workers will fax
photos across the country. The pictures are widely distributed in Vancouver among
volunteer agencies, street workers and police. If found, the child is immediately picked
up and taken to a social worker.
"We can stop her and bring her back to interview her, but she doesn't have
to stay," Jaremchuk laments. "It can be really frustrating for the police. Some
of the kids are brought in 50 or 60 times by the police, and they end up saying 'What's
the point?' I'll say, 'Every time you bring her in, it gives me another 15 minutes talk to
Jaremchuk says that about 30 percent of the kids on Vancouver's street come
from the Vancouver area, another 30 percent arrive here from other areas in B.C., and
about 30 percent come from other provinces.
Many of them end up turning to the sex trade for money, and those kids
congregate in three of Vancouver's main sex-trade areas: the Downtown Eastside -- known as
the "low track" or the "drug stroll" because of the predominance of IV
drug users in the area and the low prices demanded by the girls -- "boy's town"
in Yaletown, and the "kiddy stroll" north of Hastings Street near Victoria
The so-called high track, located on Seymour and Richard's streets near the
downtown club scene, is rarely frequented by children, and the prostitutes who work there
tend to command the highest fees.
Vancouver's sex trade has a diverse physical and social landscape, but
Jaremchuk says there is common ground. "I've never met a kid working in the sex trade
who has not been sexually abused. They have absolutely no self-esteem."
Jaremchuk says that just like an animal "smells" fear, a pimp can
detect low self-esteem. "When a pimp starts telling them that they're pretty and
treats them like they're something special, they begin to think that they owe him
In Vancouver, pimps are actively recruiting in some of the most unlikely
places. Police and social workers tell nightmarish stories of children lured from high
schools, elementary schools, and most recently, from a food fair at the Metrotown mall
complex, where pimps have access to hundreds of young girls and boys away from the gaze of
"Parents think that when their kids go to the mall with their friends,
it's okay," Det. Const. Daryl Hetherington of the PPU says. "But if you go to
the mall and see the kids that hang out there, you'd have to be blind not to see that it's
not a good place for them."
"The pimps are anywhere the kids hang out," Jaremchuk says. She even
remembers one brazen man who tried to recruit a girl right in the waiting room of the
Ministry's downtown adolescent street unit, where the girl had gone to see a counselor.
"I think that a lot of people don't really think that it could happen to
an 11- or 12- or 13-year-old kid," Jaremchuk says. "But it does. It seems the
smarter we get, the smarter they get. If we close one loophole, they just find other ways
of getting around it."
For a pimp, one young girl can be a gold mine: she can earn up to $1,000 a
night. Youth sex is sought after on the street because johns tend to believe that the
younger the girl, the less likely that she's infected with AIDS or other sexually
In Vancouver, the kiddy stroll is one of the main areas where johns buy sex
from children on the street. The industrial district comes alive after dark, and there is
a constant parade of vehicles: trucks, sedans, two-door compacts and upscale station
wagons, each occupied by one man who has come to window-shop for sex. On any given night,
there are approximately two dozen girls within a two-block radius. As many as five girls
stand on a corner; they are young and from all ethnic backgrounds.
"It would be safe to say that most of the men driving around the kiddy
stroll are pedophiles," Cpl. Ward says. "Pedophiles come here looking for
children, and we get them here looking from Alberta, Ontario, Victoria and the United
States. Vancouver is known as a permissive city."
Indeed, information on buying sex in Vancouver is readily available on the
Internet. At one site, the World Sex Guide, you can find an exhaustive list of hundreds of
places to buy sex on every continent. Click on Canada and there's a list of 17 cities, not
only the major ones such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, but smaller ones like Ajax,
Barrie, and even Nanaimo. Click on Vancouver and you pull up a dozen pages of testimonials
about where to go for what, how much to pay, and how to avoid the police.
One writer, who posted a detailed account of his three-day sex tour, summed it
up with: "All in all, Vancouver is great, especially compared to Seattle. You don't
have to worry about police busting you or having your name printed if you were
Another wrote: "There are four streets in the downtown area where there're
a lot of hot girls... especially the ones who claim that they are over the age of 18...
hehehe, yeah right... but there are too many cops there lately," he continues.
"Occasionally you'll run into a runaway or something who's really hot."
TUESDAY AROUND MIDNIGHT, and it's like rush hour on the
kiddy stroll. The vice squad stops a young blonde girl who claims to be 18 but looks at
least three years younger. She has no ID, and police decide to take her to the Ministry
for Children and Families' all-night office on Cornwall Street in Kitsilano. She's a
runaway from Prince George. She's wearing baggy jeans, brand-new Fila runners, and a Nike
windbreaker. Her hair is in a ponytail, and she's wearing very little makeup. She looks
like any other kid you'd see at a mall, except her dialogue with police is well-rehearsed.
Only her chewed fingernails betray her cool facade.
"I don't usually do this," she says as she climbs into the back of
the cruiser. "This is my first time. I've only been standing here for about two
minutes. I'm just waiting for my welfare application to go through. I wasn't planning to
do this for long."
"If this is your first time, how did you know to come down here?"
asks Const. Raymond Payette.
"Everyone in Prince George knows that at Victoria and Pandora there's a
track," says the girl, using the street vernacular. "They all know it."
The 10-minute ride gives the two vice officers an opportunity to tell her about
the reality of the street: rape, violence and murder. They tell her how 67 prostitutes
from Vancouver have been murdered since 1986 and that many of those killings are still
unsolved. The is girl is silent for a few seconds, then she begins to bite her nails and
sob quietly. "When you're told all your life you're a whore, you start to believe
it," she says. "I have a $500 cell-phone bill; someone stole my phone. I have to
pay for it!"
A brief conversation with her single mother in Prince George establishes that
the girl is, indeed, 18 years old. The woman tells police that a few weeks ago, she flew
to Vancouver to convince her daughter to return with her, and she did. A few days later,
however, she stole money from her mother to fly back to Vancouver.
"I can't believe she'd resort to that for some telephone bill," says
her mother in a later interview. "I'm terribly worried about her, but there's
absolutely nothing I can do; she's 18 years old. I've been sending her money to survive to
keep her off the street, but that's obviously not working. Until she wants to help
herself, there's nothing I can do."
The girl clearly didn't want help that night. She left almost immediately after
the police handed her over to the social workers.
"She's a very hot commodity for the pimps because she looks really
young," Payette says while walking back to the cruiser. "But if you can get them
before their first really bad experience, they're still savable. We picked up a girl from
Manitoba who came to Vancouver to make some money to pay some bills. The next time we saw
her, she had been sexually assaulted... She's out there all the time now."
IT IS 1 A.M. WEDNESDAY morning and traffic is steady on
the kiddy stroll. The Vancouver police vice squad and the Provincial Prostitution Unit are
using a police decoy as part of a crackdown on the sexual shopping habits of clients
cruising the area.
A young-looking police officer is dropped off on a corner, and several unmarked
police cars and vans stand by as a PPU officer runs a video camera to capture the johns on
film. The excitement caused by the new girl on the stroll is almost palpable. The other
girls are forgotten, and the decoy gets all the attention.
|"If it was the john's kids wading through condoms, they'd be
the first ones at the city-hall meetings."
-- Oscar Ramos
The first driver to stop is a young man in a white, old-model Volkswagen
Rabbit. The decoy's job is to engage him in a verbal contract for sexual services. He must
show her that he has money, and when a deal is struck, she agrees to meet him in a parking
lot across the street. A hand through her hair signals that the deal has been made. She
meets him in the lot, along with three other plainclothes officers. He is charged with
communicating for the purpose of obtaining the sexual services of a prostitute.
About half an hour later, a second car stops to talk to the decoy. His plates
are from Washington state; he offers U.S. funds, but there is no deal. He drives away.
During the course of the five-hour operation, four men are charged with
communicating. They will appear in court months later, but the Crown will be lucky to get
one conviction. As Hetherington put it, they get worse punishment for pulling a U-turn
than they get for hiring a prostitute.
"A lot of johns break into tears when we stop them; they beg us to let
them go," Payette says. "They're terrified that all this information will ruin
their reputations." Payette and his partner, Const. Oscar Ramos, have met hundreds of
johns. In fact, for about the past nine months, johns have been the primary focus of their
jobs. They designed and operate a new program known as DISC, which stands for Deter and
Identify Sex-trade Consumers. The program focuses on breaking anonymity of sex-trade
"We don't charge them," Ramos says. "We just let them know what
they're doing." The officers cruise known prostitution areas and catch johns in the
act. "The whole thing came about when we were on patrol," Ramos explains.
"People in the neighbourhoods were speaking out because it was happening around the
schools and parks. Kids were finding condoms and needles on the streets, so we decided to
concentrate on the johns, to force them out of the neighbourhoods, away from the schools
and parks. We take down their name, birthdate, vehicle type, description and address.
We'll also take note of any details such as a birthmark, tattoo, or baby seat in the back.
Most of them don't come back because it's too risky."
"Since January, we've listed 182 names; the youngest is 18 and the oldest
is 75. The majority of them are white-collar workers from affluent neighbourhoods,"
Payette says. According to the data they have collected, 10 percent of them are from the
North Shore, 11 percent from Burnaby, 40 percent from Vancouver, and 11 percent from
outside the Lower Mainland altogether. "We have yet to pick up one man from the
Ramos adds: "Most of them don't have criminal record, but they're willing
to take the risk. And I'll guarantee that if it was their kids wading through condoms on
their way to school, they'd be the first ones at city-hall meetings."
DISCOURAGING CLIENTS FROM conducting their business in
residential neighbourhoods is one of the Vancouver vice unit's priorities. The "Dear
John" program that has been operating for the past few years involves sending a
letter to the home of a john that mentions the fact that he has been charged.
By registering names and descriptions and anything unusual, the DISC program
goes one step further, and in addition to discouraging clients, it also acts as a database
of men who use prostitutes, which could offer police strong leads when a sex-trade worker
goes missing or is murdered.
For the past three years, John Lowman, a Simon Fraser University criminology
professor, and his colleagues Chris Acheson and Laura Fraser have been conducting a study
on the consumers of the street sex trade. Using Internet questionnaires and personal
interviews with men charged with prostitution-related offences, they've found that the
vast majority of respondents believe it is wrong to buy sexual services from a child.
Although estimates of the age at which a person stops being a child varied significantly,
only one man interviewed expressed any sexual interest in children.
The study may be affected, however, by the fact that the penalty for buying sex
from a child is much stricter than that for using an adult prostitute -- potential survey
respondents who have a sexual interest in children may be reluctant to participate in the
study, despite its provisions of anonymity. Although Lowman agrees that this may
constitute a built-in limitation, his research does reveal that as many as 15 percent of
the communication charges he studied involved a child, indicating that there is a
quantifiable segment of sex-trade consumers in Vancouver who target children.
The law treats a prostitution offence much more seriously when it involves
children. For example, anyone who stops a vehicle, impedes traffic, or communicates with
an adult is charged under Section 213 of the Criminal Code, punishable by summary
conviction, with a maximum possible fine of $2,000 and/or six months in jail. When the
alleged offence involves a child, that person is charged, under Section 212(4) of the
Criminal Code, with an indictable offence with a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Still, almost no johns ever do jail time. According to the SFU study, out of
434 men charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution in Vancouver, 87.2
percent were handed either a conditional discharge or an absolute discharge; the other
12.8 percent were fined or received a suspended sentence.
Tough sentences are also unusual under the code's stricter Section 212(4),
partly because most johns are first-time offenders -- which usually translates into
leniency from the court -- but also because of the language of the law.
Section 212(4) reads, in part: "Every person who, in any place, obtains or
attempts to obtain for consideration, the sexual services of a person who is under the age
of eighteen years or who that person believes is under the age of eighteen years is guilty
of an indictable offense."
The presence of the word believes requires the prosecution to prove that
the accused believed that the prostitute was underage, a state-of-mind issue that is
almost impossible to document.
Over the past few years, B.C. Attorney General Ujjal Dosanjh has been
aggressively lobbying for a toughening-up of prostitution legislation in Canada. That
effort has resulted in an amendment to federal legislation that allows police to use decoy
officers who can structure the verbal contract in such a way that the john makes a deal on
the basis of the prostitute's being underage. Once the deal is struck, it is proof enough
that the john is breaking the law. This fall, MPs will debate a proposed justice bill that
would allow undercover police to wear hidden recorders, a move specifically designed to
target clients of child prostitutes.
"It is sufficient evidence to prove that he believed she was young,"
Dosanjh says. "This has eliminated a whole lot of problems; the courts should not
have to decide what the state of mind of the accused is."
Another amendment that Dosanjh hopes will add some teeth to federal law would
raise the age of sexual consent between youths and adults from 14 to 16 years. In
conjunction with this change, his ministry is pushing to establish a separate offence for
adults who seek the sexual services of youths under the age of 14, with a maximum penalty
of life imprisonment.
A problem with convicting johns and the pimps who procure children is getting
the child to testify in court against the accused. Often the child's life is threatened,
sometimes even the lives of family members, and there is the additional stigma of
appearing in court and talking in detail about the sexual acts.
To get around this problem, the ministry pushed for the police use of recording
devices during the course of the investigation, which could replace the need for the
"The progress has been painfully slow," Dosanjh admits, referring to
the pace of legislative change, "I'm hoping that it will not be so slow in the
future. I think that we are much closer to the reality on the street than Ottawa is, and I
think we are going in the right direction, but it needs to go faster."
Some say the law also needs to cast a wider net. Police and social workers
generally agree that the number of sex-trade workers on the street in Vancouver represents
only a tiny percentage of the actual number of prostitutes in the trade. Experts estimate
that as much as 90 percent of the sex trade is conducted indoors and out of sight, adults
and children included, although some would argue that there is probably even a higher
percentage of children working indoors because pimps prefer to keep them away from police.
Lowman is outspoken on the problem of on the unseen child prostitutes. "We
are not going to do much about the kids in the trade until our politicians start talking
about this hypocrisy," he says. "The [Vancouver] municipality is up to its neck
in the licensing of prostitution. There has been a proliferation of the sex industry in
Vancouver through municipal licensing. So you have this huge percentage of the sex
industry going on behind doors, and everyone who can afford to do it off the street is
completely immune to charges."
Lowman maintains that the City of Vancouver is actually profiting from
prostitution through the issuance of annual business licenses. A masseuse who provides a
nonsexual, health-based service pays $88 for a one-year license; a body-rub parlor that
provides stimulation "for pleasure," however, pays $6,788 for a one-year license.
According to one Internet posting on the World Sex Guide: "My experience
is that most places which advertise body rubs provide full service in Vancouver. Downtown
is more expensive, while Richmond and Kingsway are cheaper."
Another posting reads: "Suffice to say, though, that if you pick up the Courier
or the Province and just go to any of the places which advertise in the business
personals of the classifieds, you're gonna get some action ...though at some places you'll
get more than others, depending on what the girls are willing to do."
Lowman maintains that the reason body-rub salons are not being targeted and the
street prostitutes are is "because they are visible and the municipality can't profit
from them. They are the scapegoats."
CHERRY KINGSLEY WAS ONCE a child sex-trade worker in
Vancouver. That was eight years ago, and today she is one of the most outspoken advocates
for sexually exploited children in Canada. She lived in 20 different foster homes after
she turned 10, and when she was 14, Kingsley says, she was tricked into the trade by two
trusted adult friends who drove her here from Calgary.
"Crystal put makeup on me, dressed me up, and walked me down to Davie
Street. She gave me some condoms, told me how much I was supposed to charge, and what I
was supposed to do."
It is a classic story lived by countless kids. For Kinglsey, it took years to
escape. Most of her friends never did.
"When I look at what happened in my life, I could see some of the things
about why I ended up there, and what kept me there," says Kingsley, now in her late
20s. "I know what it's like to be marginalized by society. How people don't let you
back in once you've worked on the street -- you're tainted. People would drive by and yell
and throw things at us. The fact was that someone could rape, beat and even kill us and
there would be no one to complain. A lot of my friends died; dozens of my friends died
from drugs, suicide, and murder."
Her experience inspired her to help other children stolen away by the sex
trade. In 1996, Kingsley was invited to Stockholm to speak at the United Nations world
conference against the sexual exploitation of children. She was one of only three speakers
with experience in the sex trade. That conference made her realize there had to be another
way to solve the problem faced by millions of children around the world. "As
academics and bureaucrats gather together to address these issues, they really don't know
what they're talking about," she says. "They need someone who's
So Kingsley decided to organize her own international conference, with the help
of various levels of government and private sources. Her mandate was to focus on the very
children who have endured sexual exploitation by listening to their stories and their own
solutions. the conference, called Out From the Shadows: International Summit of Sexually
Exploited Youth, was held in Victoria this past March, and dozens of government officials
from Canada, Europe, the U.S., South America and Central America attended. Kingsley
hand-picked the "experiential" delegates by visiting prostitution strolls across
Canada and Latin America.
Unlike at other international conferences, where the presenting delegates are
politicians and people who study the issues, at this summit the governmental heavyweights
did not have the floor -- the youths did. All of the more than 60 sex-trade workers told
their stories: how they were lured into the sex trade, what kept them there, or how they
"On a personal level, after you tell your story to people so many times,
you sort of disconnect from it," Kingsley says, "but through this conference I
connected back to my own story, and after listening to the stories of the people at the
conference, I started to feel that I wasn't so alone any more."
The summit heard tales of parental abandonment, kidnapping, rape and torture
coming from youths living as far away as Halifax and Honduras. But all the stories were
"I learned that the First Nations youth here in Canada who are working the
street are living almost parallel lives with the Central and South American youth,"
Kingsley says. "They're all living in the Third World, but they're right here in
Canada, the children are almost all First Nations. And I think there's a rationalization
that goes on in the guy's mind, that 'As long as they don't look like one of my
children. then it's okay.'"
Kingsley says that the main outcome to be hoped for from the summit is a will
to change things. "I expected, more than anything, a safe gathering to talk about the
issues without the shame and stigma, and to develop a vision. I wanted the bureaucrats and
politicians and officials to hear the issues and to initiate changes from what they
Changes may be in the offing at an international level. Judith Karp, a member
of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, attended the summit and was impressed by
the experiential approach. "This conference was a first," Karp says. "They
allocated a very short time for the guests like myself to speak, but, in my opinion, this
summit can bring out how much youth can become partners to the changes in their country.
"The [UN] committee can give this as an example for other countries to use
as a method."
Dosanjh attended the summit as well, and he says it heightened his awareness of
child-abuse issues. "Political people like myself, the Crown, police, we sometimes
understand these issues in an intellectual way and fail to give it a human dimension in
our own mind, and I think what this does for me is bring before my eyes in very real terms
the real victims of what's going on in society, and whenever I'm now dealing with this
issue, I'll be remembering these young men and women."
Government decision-makers may have been enlightened by the summit, but with
hundreds, and potentially a thousand, youths under the age of 18 working in the sex trade
in Vancouver, what tangible services are being offered now? Earlier this year, the
Ministry for Children and Families announced that it would be funding four more safe
houses for children in the sex trade in B.C., which would bring the total number of such
facilities in the province to 13 in Vancouver, Kelowna, Prince George, Kamloops, New
Westminster and Victoria. The added homes are expected to be open this summer and will
mean that there will be 50 beds dedicated to sexually exploited children in B.C.
Meantime, Jaremchuk and other social workers are making do, with a growing
demand for help. "Safe houses won't take kids high or drunk, so if detox is full,
what do you do with them? It's a lot of trying to find a place to fit the child. The
response is not always immediate, and it needs to be."
Const. Dixon is concerned that the number of places for children in trouble
doesn't meet the demand. "When you have a kid tell you that she's ready to get into
treatment and all you can tell her is the facilities are full and to come back in three
months, you know there's a big problem down here."
To deal with the overload, B.C. has been sending children for treatment out of
province. In the past 18 months, 10 B.C. kids have been treated at Poundmaker's Adolescent
Treatment Centre in Alberta. The facility offers a holistic treatment for children
addicted to drugs and involved in the sex trade. The cost per child for the 90-day program
"We have identified that problem, how many we are sending out of province
and why," says Michael White, youth-services manager for Ministry for Children and
Families. "But we don't have the specific resources locally with a holistic program
for these kids."
Meanwhile, White says, the ministry is undergoing a revamping of services with
the intention of reallocating funds and using resources more efficiently. White says he
hopes some money will be made available to help sexually exploited children more
Kingsley, though, says that more money and facilities are not necessarily the
answer. "We have to change public attitudes, and [then] government will shift as
well. At the same time, we also have to shift some of the responsibility out of the laps
of government and onto the community. I believe that prostitution could not thrive like it
does in a community that doesn't silently accept it. Communities need to protect their
children from all forms of abuse. The sex trade has become a community issue through
schools, community groups, parents, nonparents, and especially men. I believe men have to
address some of their own issues. We have to ask ourselves, why does prostitution thrive?
"The first step toward change is that young people need to tell their
stories," Kingsley says. "We have to get rid of some of the myths. We have to
get rid of the stereotypes. We have to see that a pimp can be a lawyer who is servicing a
client. Pimps can also be hotel managers that charge guest fees, taxi drivers, even the
owner of a knickknack store. I have a friend who worked in the back of a tourist shop in
Gastown. She was 13 years old and she would sit all day in a little room in the back of
the store and guys would come and meet her there. At the end of the day, the owner would
give her $20 and a pack of smokes.
"I'm angry, sad and even today I'm haunted by the people I meet who are
still on the street. But their strength and honesty and courage inspires me to do
something. And I know that with what I'm doing, there may not be any real change in my
lifetime," she admits. "But as we empower more and more young people, the change
will happen. I'm just trying to plant the seeds for the future."
Meanwhile, for Corinn, as with hundreds of young people who routinely sell
their bodies on Vancouver streets, in body-rub salons, through escort agencies and hotels,
the changes may not come soon enough. Corinn will continue to live her life in her
Downtown Eastside bungalow, planting her bean seeds in the soil and cocaine in her veins.