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article imageSilent victims: Violence and the sex industry

By KJ Mullins     Dec 27, 2012 in Crime
Toronto - Going to work every day when you are part of the sex industry comes with risks. The biggest risk is becoming a victim of violence.
In the past it was believed that sex workers could not be the victims of rape, an idea erecting barriers when it comes to reporting such crimes.
Yesterday a man surrendered himself to Toronto Police after being wanted in connection to the sexual assault of a sex worker on December 22. Ankur Sindhu has been charged with sexual assault, forcible confinement and threatening death.
Earlier this year in Toronto police sought Thomas Reardon in a series of sexual assaults committed against women, including sex trade workers. He was arrested in late September in Pickering, Ontario after evading police for over a month. He picked victims who were less likely to report the crimes to the police. He was charged with three counts of sexual assault, threatening bodily harm and forcible confinement. He is being held until his case goes to court.
For the general population becoming a victim of a sexual assault is being attacked by someone you know. Seven in ten sexual assault victims know their attacker. When someone is in the sex industry those numbers can be much lower. In the 2000 Farley and Kelly study from the United States found that 82 percent of women working as street prostitutes had been physically assaulted and 68 percent had been raped. The 2004 Raphael and Shapiro study found that violence against sex workers were equally as likely to face violence. The numbers raise dramatically for those working as exotic dancers according to the Holsopple study in 1999 where every single subject had been physically assaulted at their place of business.
For many women who work in the sex industry sexual assaults can be even more traumatic than for those who are not sex workers. The victim's attack may open up past wounds such as childhood sexual abuses. Up to ninety percent of women in the sex industry were sexually abused as children. According to a study by researchers Melissa Farley and Howard Barkan during the 1990s post traumatic stress disorder is commonplace for sex worker victims of sex crimes.
“If you are a sex offender in BC right now, you have a 98.5 % chance of getting away with it”
(RCMP member Matt Logan in his presentation on High Risk and Repeat Offenders at the Premier’s Congress on Public Safety).
Many in the sex trade world-wide face assaults multiple times. When sex work is illegal the risks are higher. Few report the crimes to the police. In parts of Canada homicides of sex trade workers are less likely to be solved than the rest of the population.
In Canada working in the sex trade has never been illegal. It is illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution in a public place, to own or operate a bawdy house, to live off the avails of prostitution, to transport a person to a bawdy house, and to procure someone to become a prostitute.
Jobs in the Canadian sex industry include soliciting on the street or in other public areas, nude dancing with or without contact, providing erotic massages, visiting or receiving through an escort service, acting in pornographic movies, animating erotic phone or webcam conversations, and offering specific or specialized services like domination or fetishism.
Those who work as street-level sex workers is extremely dangerous. A 2005 Vancouver study found that 78 percent had been victims of rape on the job. Over the past decade violence has been increasing for sex workers in Vancouver who work on the street compared to those employed indoors. Sixty-three percent of indoor sex workers had never experienced violent behaviours on the job.
Some of the population believes that there is an anything goes policy when it comes to the sex industry. This is not the reality. Just because a person performs sexual acts as part of the job being sexually assaulted is not simply a reasonable job hazard. Sex workers have the right to refuse any sexual act they want and if a client does not respect that they are committing an act of violence.
In the past sex workers who went to the police when they were victims of crimes felt that they were being victimized again by the process. This has lead to many crimes never being reported.
Street level crisis workers that work with those in the sex industry can also be a factor. There is a lack of trust between agencies which hamper in crime reporting. Those barriers are still very deep but are gradually being broken down.
In Toronto there is a special crime unit that works with members of the sex industry. These officers are striving to break down barriers so that victims feel safer to report crimes. As more crime victims come forward there will be greater justice and a reduction of these types of crimes if criminals are convicted.
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