Youth Involvement in Prostitution: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography

2. Legislative History and Policy Responses (continued)

2. Legislative History and Policy Responses (continued)

2.3 The Fraser Committee

Amidst concerns about the expansion of prostitution on certain streets, the federal government convened the Special Committee on Pornography and Prostitution (Fraser Committee, 1985). The Fraser Committee was instructed to “...study the problems associated with pornography and prostitution, and carry out a program of sociolegal research to provide a basis for its work ” (Lowman et al, 1986: xiii). To facilitate this mandate, the Department of Justice Canada commissioned a series of studies that were categorized into three groups: 1) regional studies that examined the business of prostitution and its control across Canada; 2) A national population study that gathered opinions about prostitution; 3) Comparative studies that examined approaches to prostitution in Europe, Asia, Arabia, South America, and the United States (cf. Sansfaçon, 1984) (for Working Papers, see Crook, 1984; El Komos, 1984; Fleischman, 1984; Gemme et al, 1984; Haug and Cini, 1984; Jayewardene, Juliani and Talbot, 1984; Kiedrowski and van Dijk, 1984; Laut, 1984; Lowman, 1984; Peat Marwick, 1984; Sansfacon, 1984(a) and 1984(b)). The Fraser Committee released its recommendations on 23 April 1985.[6]

The Fraser Committee argued that the soliciting law failed to meet its “theoretical object” of reducing prostitution and “...instead has operated in a way which victimizes and dehumanizes the prostitute” (Fraser, 1985: 533). The Committee called on the government to develop long-term programs to address the social and economic conditions faced by women involved in prostitution (Fraser, 1985: 525/26).

In the short-term, the Fraser Committee argued that street prostitution is not likely to disappear as long as the government refuses to identify a location for it to occur (Fraser, 1985: 534; cf. Lowman, 1992a: 10). In particular, the Committee recognized the need to address the public nuisances associated with street prostitution by identifying (private) locations where prostitution could occur (Fraser, 1985: 534-540). To overcome this problem the Committee recommended comprehensive changes to the Criminal Code, including, among other things, repealing the bawdy house laws to allow one or two prostitutes over the age of eighteen to employ themselves in a private abode (Fraser, 1985: 538) and empowering provincial governments to license “small-scale” prostitution establishments (Fraser, 1985: 546): “[t]his approach suggested that better control of the public nuisance aspects of the trade would be best facilitated by curtailing the power of the criminal law over prostitution in private places” (Lowman, 1991a: 309).

When it came to research and issues pertaining to “youth prostitution,” the Fraser Committee largely deferred to the Badgley Committee (1984). However, one notable exception was that the Fraser Committee (1985: 658/59) disagreed with Badgley’s recommendation to criminalize young prostitutes as a means of protection. The Fraser Committee argued that creating an age-specific offence contradicted the spirit of the Young Offenders Act. However, the Fraser Committee did recommend new legislation censuring the sexual procurement of a person under the age of 18 for prostitution-related purposes. In addition, the Committee encouraged the enactment of specific legislation to criminalize those who purchase, or attempt to purchase, the sexual services of youth (1985: 659):

We think it is essential that the Criminal Code contain an offence specifically framed around sexual activity for reward with a person under 18...In our opinion, a person who is even approached by an adult should be able to invoke the law enforcement process. To await the completion of the sexual activity before triggering the criminal process is to lose a substantial portion of the deterrent value of this provision...The section is directed toward the party whom we think is more likely to be the “aggressor” in the contact between the user and provider of sexual services of youth.

2.4 The Badgley Committee

In an effort to respond to a growing concern about youth participation in the sex trade, the Canadian government mandated the Badgley Committee (1984) to also address youth prostitution in its review of child abuse (Lowman, 1986: 195).

Released one year prior to the Fraser Report, the Badgley Report contained 52 recommendations to help confront the sexual exploitation of youth, including several conclusions and recommendations the Committee made following interviews with 229 “juvenile prostitutes” (Badgley Committee, 1984: 967). The Badgley Committee’s research data produced substantial biographical information about youth prostitutes in Canada (Clark, 1986: 106); before this, academic information concerning the dynamics of “adolescent prostitution” was mainly from the United States (for example, Weisberg, 1985). To date, the Badgley Report remains a “definitive and official source of data on the sexual abuse of children and youths in Canada” (Brock, 1998: 115).

Among the Committee’ findings:

  • A majority of young prostitutes were female (1984: 969).
  • 27.6 percent of the females and 13.1 percent of the males they interviewed were under 16 years of age (1984: 984).
  • Young prostitutes came from families that represent a variety of social classes, although a “large portion” was from “middle class” homes (1984: 973).[7]
  • The Badgley Committee uncovered important information about home-life experiences of runaway youths before they became involved in street prostitution. For many youths the choice to run away was precipitated by home situations they described as intolerable:

The National Juvenile Prostitution Survey’s findings clearly show that running away from home was an experience shared by most of the youths who later became juvenile prostitutes. For many of them, running away represented an immediate means of escaping from some aspect of their home environment with which they found it impossible to cope, rather than serving as an avenue through which to pursue some positive long-term goals (Badgley Committee, 1984: 983).

  • A majority of youths characterized their childhood and teenage experiences as troubled and unhappy (Badgley, 1984: 985).
  • Many males involved in prostitution ran away from home because they were ridiculed and ostracized for their homosexual preferences (1984: 969). With little support from family members and a homophobic school environment, many young males turned to the streets where they believed “...they could meet people of like sexual preferences, and where they could escape the hostility and derision of family and friends” (Badgley Committee, 1984: 970).
  • Young prostitutes were relatively uneducated compared to other Canadians of the same age. The Committee noted that, once on the streets, available social services for youth prostitutes were “...ineffective and had provided inadequate protection and assistance” (1984: 986). Based on this finding, the Committee recommended the development of specialized services to assist young prostitutes and to prevent youth at risk from becoming involved in prostitution (1984: 986).

2.5 The Badgley Committee on Past Sexual Experiences of Young Prostitutes

Youth interviewed for the Badgley Report were asked to recall their “early sexual experiences,” including situations where they were sexually abused by family members (1984: 976). The Committee compared survey information from interviews with “juvenile prostitutes” to data obtained from the National Population Survey to determine if there was any relationship between pervious sexual experiences and becoming involved in prostitution. The result led the Committee to argue that “...youths who later became juvenile prostitutes were no more at risk when they were growing up than other Canadian children and youths of having been victims of sexual offences” (1984: 978).

Several commentators criticized the Badgley Committee’s findings about past sexual experiences (i.e., Lowman et al, 1986: Bagley, 1985). Among these criticisms:

  • The Committee used incommensurate data when it compared the Juvenile Prostitution Survey, which asked youth about unwanted sexual acts involving “threats or force” to which they had unwillingly submitted, and the National Population Survey, which asked interviewees about their first unwanted sexual experience (Bagley 1985 and 1986, Brock, 1998 and Lowman, 1986 and 1987).
  • Interviews conducted for the Badgley Report included sexually exploited youths under the age of twenty, while the National Population survey included people between 17 and 70 years of age (Bagley and Young, 1987). Lowman (1986) argued the age differences may have led respondents in the two studies to recall past sexual experiences differently (p.197). Further, “...young prostitutes, because of their street experiences, may interpret what constitutes an ‘unwanted sexual act’ quite differently from non prostitutes” (Lowman, 1986: 197).
  • The Badgley Committee downplayed the seriousness of the abuse experienced by young prostitutes, and they failed to explain that young prostitutes were assaulted at a much younger age than the general population (Bagley, 1987).
  • The National Population Survey used self-administered questionnaires, while survey data produced for the Badgley Committee came from face-to-face interviews; these different methods of generating data may produce different types of responses (Bagley, 1986 and Lowman, 1987).

Lowman (1987: 103) challenged Badgley’s interpretation of information on past sexual experiences by comparing categories from the National Population Survey and the Juvenile Prostitution Survey that focused on unwanted sexual experiences involving “threat or force.” From this, he concludes:

…that prostitutes were twice as likely to have experienced a first unwanted intrafamilial sexual act involving force or threats of force as other members of the Canadian population. The important statistic not provided by the Badgley Committee was the number of prostitutes whose first ‘unwanted sexual experience’ during childhood did not involve ‘threats or force’ (Lowman, 1987: 103)

Bagley also reinterpreted Badgley’s data to suggest that prior to entering the street life, young prostitutes experienced twice as much abuse as the general population. Not every young prostitute experienced unwanted sexual acts while growing up (conversely, not every sexually abused youth becomes involved in prostitution) (Lowman, 1987: 104; Brock, 1998: 113); nevertheless, the literature suggests the Badgley Committee (1984) underestimated this important factor related to the decision of some youth to leave home at a young age, and their subsequent choice to live on the street and become involved in prostitution.

2.6 Recommendations of the Badgley Committee

The Badgley Committee offered numerous recommendations to address “youth prostitution.” The Committee (1984) argued that:

  • The realities of youth prostitution justified the enactment of specific legislation aimed at customers (1984: 1055/56).
  • The Committee (1984: 1056) further argued, “...[our] findings indicate that the clients of prostitutes pose at least an equal if not greater public nuisance than do the prostitutes themselves.” As a result, they recommended legislation that would make the sexual procurement of youth an indictable offence (Badgley, 1984: 1055/56).
  • They argued it was necessary to criminalize young prostitutes to keep them from a life of prostitution (1984: 1046), and therefore, the Committee recommended the enactment of a specific offence for people under 18 years of age who sell sexual services (Badgley, 1984: 95).

These recommendations raised numerous questions. As previously mentioned, the Fraser Committee (1985) disagreed with Badgley’s recommendation to criminalize young prostitutes as a means of protection, arguing that creating an age-specific offence contradicted the spirit of the Young Offender Act. Other researchers argued that the Committee’s suggestion to criminalize young prostitutes would only serve to entrench youth in prostitution, and it ignores factors that help make prostitution a choice for some youth (Appleford, 1986; Brock, 1998: 116; Lowman, 1986: 212). Further, as Brock notes:

This measure for the ‘protection’ of young prostitutes was advanced in contradiction to the committee’s statement that ‘there is no desire on the part of the committee to affix a criminal label to any juvenile prostitute,’ and its acknowledgment that criminalization would not serve as a deterrent to young persons entering prostitution (1998: 106).

Overall, the Badgley Committee was criticized for ignoring many of the structural factors that generate youth prostitution. Lorenne Clark (1986: 98) criticized the Badgley Committee for its paternalistic tone and its inability to recognize male sexual socialization as a mitigating factor in the sexual exploitation of children and youth:

They [Badgley] feel no need to stop and reflect upon the fact that it is males who are overwhelmingly responsible for this state of affairs. Nowhere do they discuss why this is so and how it can be changed. They seem simply to assume that of course we realize this, as we all do: boys will be boys, after all.

Likewise, Brock and Kinsman (1986) criticized the Badgley Committee for obfuscating gender power relations that contribute to male sexual violence against children and youths, and “...the historical process which has structured patriarchal relations, youth oppression and the present policies of sexual rule, thereby preparing us to deal with them as natural and thus confining our field of vision to a narrow, legally defined realm” (1986: 124). Sullivan (1986) criticized the Committee for ignoring many of the social economic factors that make prostitution a “significant point of entry into the labor force for some young workers.” Further, Lowman (1986: 212) questioned the Badgley Committee for not addressing the “...structural context of youth prostitution,” such as the discussions of gender, class and power imbalances between adults and youth, all factors that help to generate the sexual procurement of youth (Lowman, 1986: 212).

2.7 The Federal Government’s Response to Badgley and Fraser

Following on the heels of the Badgley (1984) and Fraser (1985) Committees, the federal government initiated two important legislative policy changes. First, in December 1985 they enacted a new law to confront street prostitution. Second, in January 1988, new legislation was introduced to criminalize child sexual abuse, which included criminalizing the sexual procurement of youth.


  • [6] For a critique of the Fraser Report, see Kanter, 1985; Lowman et al, 1986; O’Connell, 1988.
  • [7] Lowman (1987: 102) suggested the Badgley Committee’s youth prostitution survey lacked the necessary detail to make conclusions about class background of youth prostitutes.
Date modified: