Youth Involvement in Prostitution: A Focus on Intrafamilial Violence - A Literature Review

3. Government Reports and Activities (including criticisms and supporting articles)

3. Government Reports and Activities
(including criticisms and supporting articles)

Three major federal government responses have occurred since 1981: the Badgley Report (1984), the Fraser Report (1985) and the federal/provincial/territorial working group on prostitution (1998). In addition, numerous committees, reports and task forces have been launched by provincial and municipal governments to address concerns associated with the youth sex trade, and to develop steps to combat this phenomenon. The following section reviews these reports and the literature that supports and criticizes their findings and recommendations.

3.1 The Badgley Committee

The Badgley Report (1984) contained several findings and conclusions following interviews with 229 “juvenile prostitutes.” The Committee found that a majority of young prostitutes were female (1984: 969) and that 27.6 percent of the females and 13.1 percent of the males they interviewed were under 16 years of age (1984: 984).  The Committee also found that youth prostitutes came from families that represent a variety of social classes, although a “large portion” of youths were from “middle class” homes (1984: 973).  Lowman (1987: 102) suggested the Badgley Committee’s youth prostitution survey lacked the necessary detail to make conclusions about class background of youth prostitutes.

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 runaway 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). In general, a majority of youths characterized their childhood and teenage experiences as troubled and unhappy (Badgley, 1984: 985).

The Badgley Committee also determined that 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). In this regard, homophobic sentiments in “square society” propelled some young males to the streets where situational factors contributed to their decision to become involved in prostitution (Visano, 1987).

The Badgley Committee (1984) further found that 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 had been “...ineffective and had provided inadequate protection and assistance” (1984: 986). 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).

Youths 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” with data obtained from the National Population Survey to determine if there was any relationship between pervious sexual experiences and becoming involved in prostitution. The comparison 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), which included:

  1. the Committee used incommensurate data when it compared the Juvenile Prostitution Survey, which asked youths about unwanted sexual acts involving “threats or force” to which they had unwillingly submitted, and the National Population Survey that asked interviewees about their first unwanted sexual experience (Bagley 1985, 1986 and 1987, Brock, 1998 and Lowman, 1986 and 1987).
  2. 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, 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).
  3. Bagley (1987) argued 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.
  4. Finally, 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.”

It appears then, that prostitutes were twice as likely to have experienced a first unwanted intrafamilial sexual act involving force or threats of force as other member 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 Badgley Committee (1984) underestimated this important factor related to some youths’ decision to leave home at a young age, and their subsequent choice to live on the street and become involved in prostitution.

The Fraser Committee (1985) 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 Offender Acts. Other commentators argued that the Committee’s suggestion to criminalize young prostitutes would only serve to entrench youths in prostitution, and it would  ignore the factors that help make prostitution a choice for some youth (Appleford, 1986; Brock, 1998: 116;  Lowman, 1986: 212).  Further, 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).

In general the Badgley Committee was criticized for ignoring many of the structural factors that generate youth prostitution. Lorenne Clark (1986) 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 (98).

Likewise, Brock and Kinsman (1986) criticized the Badgley Committee for obfuscating gender power relations that contribute to male sexual violence against children and youths (110 and 123). For Brock and Kinsman the Committee erased “...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 broader and social economic factors that makes prostitution a “significant point of entry into the labor force for some young workers.”  Further, Lowman (1986: 212) chastised the Badgley Committee for not addressing the “...structural context of youth prostitution;” they avoided detailed discussions of gender, class and power imbalances between adults and youths, all factors that help to generate the sexual procurement of youth (Lowman, 1986: 212).

3.2 The Fraser Committee

The Fraser Committee (1985) was inaugurated in response to growing dissatisfaction with prostitution-related legislation (Lowman, 1986) and feminist concerns about pornography (McLaren, 1986: 40). The Committee was instructed to examine pornography and prostitution and to recommend ways to address relevant issues (Fraser, 1985: 5).  The Committee was 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).  The Fraser Committee released its recommendations on 23 April 1985.[2]

When it came to research and issues pertaining to “youth prostitution,” the Fraser Committee largely deferred to the Badgley Committee (1984).  However, the Fraser Report included some discussion of youth involvement in prostitution (see above sections).

3.3 The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Working Group on Prostitution

In 1992 the federal/provincial/territorial (F/P/T) deputy justice ministers instructed a working group on prostitution to examine “legislation, policy and practices concerning prostitution-related activities and bring forward recommendations to address problems posed by prostitution.” Youth involvement in prostitution, violence against prostitutes and neighbourhood concerns associated with the street sex trade were earmarked by the working group as primary issues of concern. The Working Group released its final report in December 1998, which included several recommendations with respect to youth involvement in prostitution.

The F/P/T working group recommended the development of legal and social intervention strategies to combat youth involvement in the sex trade, and they suggested youth involved in

s.213 offences be dealt with as in need of assistance and “distinct from being treated as offenders.” Other recommendations concerning youth involvement in prostitution include: increased awareness of the “dynamics of youth involved in prostitution” among criminal justice personnel; amend s.212(4) to make it easier for police to arrest customers of young prostitutes; special witness protection programs to help young prostitutes testify in court against pimps and customers; the development of “interdisciplinary protocols” involving child welfare, the police and the crown -- using the criminal justice system as a measure of last report; emphasis on alternative measures for youth involved in prostitution; and, improved services (i.e., education, prevention, harm reduction and exit supports) for youth involved in the sex trade “or at risk of such involvement.”

3.4 Violence Against Prostitutes

Another area of concern has been the incidence of violence against women involved in prostitution. The Badgley Committee (1984) reported that approximately two thirds of the youth interviewed for the Juvenile Prostitution Survey reported physical assaults in the course of selling sexual services (cf. F/P/T, 1998).  Data produced by Statistics Canada revealed that 63 prostitutes were murdered in Canada from 1991 to 1995; of those victims, 60 were female and 7 were under 18 years of age (see, Duchesne, 1997; Wolff and Geissel, 1993; Lowman, 1997).

Miller and Schwartz (1995) conducted interviews with 16 street prostitutes to examine the “experience and meaning” of violence against prostitutes. Respondents indicated high levels of rape and violence while involved in prostitution-related activities. The authors argue that stereotypical rape myths “come together uniquely in the case of prostitutes to fuel both the violence and devaluation that allows society to ignore such treatment,” and that violence against street prostitutes represents a continuum of violence against women in general. Schissel and Fedec (1999) explore the “culture of violence” experienced by young prostitutes by analyzing youth probation files in Regina and Saskatoon. In addition to high levels of childhood physical and sexual abuse among youth prostitutes, the authors find several examples of indirect and direct victimization. As the authors note: “prostitution creates a context in which those youth who are involved will run a high risk of being damage by a predator or by themselves - whether directly through assault and self-injury or indirectly through high-risk behaviour” (Schissel and Fedec, 1999: 51).

In 1993 a coalition of Vancouver service agencies commissioned a study to examine violence against street-involved women (Currie, Lalibertie, Bird, Rosa, Noelle, and Spring, 1993). The research includes in-depth one-to-one interviews with 85 street-involved women. The authors found that a majority of respondents experienced violence (sexual and physical abuse) at home, and after they became involved in prostitution. Further, 98% of the women experienced violence as a result of a bad date, and youth involved in prostitution were identified as more at risk of victimization than adult prostitutes.

In response to concerns that the law perpetuated violence against prostitutes, the Department of Justice Canada sponsored a series of jurisdictional studies to examine the incidence of violence, both before and after the introduction of the communicating law (Bill C49) (see, Brannigan, 1996, Flieschman, 1996, Lowman and Fraser 1996). Among the findings produced by the evaluations: 1) composite data from research in B.C. revealed 67 homicides of prostitutes since 1978 (60 since 1982). A newspaper analysis indicated that victims ranged from age 15 to 41, and that four youths involved in prostitution (under the age of 18) were murdered between 1974 to 1994. Lowman and Fraser concluded that, “preliminary analysis suggests that women known to have been involved in street prostitution are murdered at a rate somewhere in the region of sixty to one hundred and twenty times the rate at which non-prostitute women are murdered.” The authors asserted an indirect link between the enforcement of the communicating law and violence against women involved in prostitution (Lowman and Fraser 1996). 2) Research in Halifax reported numerous acts of violence against prostitutes by pimps and customers.  However, the police, crown, defense and social agencies reported that Bill C-49 has not created a more dangerous working milieu for street prostitutes (Fleischman, 1996). 3) Research in Calgary and Winnipeg reported 20 homicides of women involved in prostitution since 1985. The author suggested that an increase in violence against prostitutes corresponds with an increase of violence against women (Brannigan, 1996).

3.5 Other Reports and Initiatives to Address Youth Involvement in Prostitution

There has been numerous youth prostitution-related reports, committees, task forces and initiatives launched by provincial and municipal governments. There are examples of projects developed to help understand the characteristics and dynamics of the youth sex trade (for example, see LeBlanc, 1997; Sas and Hurley, 1997). There are initiatives and reports aimed at preventing youth involvement in prostitution, i.e., prevention programs for families and schools, and improved services for street involved youth (for example, see British Columbia, 1994; C/S Resors Consulting, 1996; Daum and Dion, 1996; Recommendations of the Prostitution Policy, Service and research Committee for the Calgary Community, 1996; Madsen and Moss, 1996). Other reports focus on harm reduction strategies for youth involved in the sex trade, i.e., substance abuse programs, initiatives to reduce violence against prostitutes, and protection for youth witnesses (for example, see Committee for Sexually Exploited Youth in the CRD, 1997; British Columbia, 1994; Halldorson Jackson, 1998). Finally, several committees and reports recommend counseling, education, employment, housing and support services for youth who want to exit prostitution (for example, see C/S Resors Consulting, 1996; Canadian Child Welfare Association, 1987; Safer City Task Force, 1993).

Several recent reports and initiatives emphasize the need for co-operation and communication between the various agencies responsible for dealing with youth prostitution. The Report of the Working Group on Juvenile Prostitution (Manitoba Child and Youth Secretariat, 1996) recommended that the Department of Family Services foster networking and coordination among Winnipeg agencies that “provide significant services to juveniles in prostitution and in street life.” In 1996, the British Columbia government launched a provincial action plan on prostitution that encouraged police, service providers, parents, youth and communities to work together to develop “initiatives that target pimps and johns, violence towards prostitutes, and safety and nuisance issues in neighbourhoods.” Further, Sas and Hurley (1997: 185) recommended an “inter-agency investigative protocol to combat child sexual exploitation, including significant authorities such as the CAS [Children’s Aid society], police, Crown Attorney’s office, local boards of education, and health unit.” The authors also recommended a national strategy to “combat child sexual abuse.”

3.6 Common Themes in Attempts to Address Youth Prostitution

An overview of the various reports, initiatives and recommendations reveals an increased concern with the victimization/exploitation of youth involved in prostitution. In several Canadian jurisdictions there has been attempts to treat youth prostitution as the sexual abuse and exploitation of youth (for example, see Recommendations of the Prostitution Policy, Service and Research Committee for the Calgary Community, 1996; Manitoba Child and Youth Secretariat, 1996), and there are new programs to protect sexually exploited youth involved in prostitution (British Columbia, 1994, 1996, and 1997). In other jurisdictions recommendations have been launched to amend child welfare legislation so as to treat the sexual procurement of youth as child abuse (Recommendations of the Prostitution Policy, Service and Research Committee for the Calgary Community, 1996; Manitoba Child and Youth Secretariat, 1996). These initiatives stand in contrast to previous efforts that supported the criminalization of youth involved in prostitution as a means of protection (for example, see Badgley, 1984).

Attempts to hold men who sexually procure youth accountable for their actions is a corollary of recent efforts to protect youth involved in prostitution. In 1996, the Manitoba Child and Youth Secretariat suggested that convicted procurers of young prostitutes be listed on a child abuse registry, and they introduced legislation permitting the seizure of vehicles used for prostitution-related offences (Manitoba Government News Release, 1998). In addition, various initiatives have been launched to develop techniques to enforce s.212(4) of the Criminal Code and target men who sexually procure youth (for example, see British Columbia, 1996 and 1997).


[2]  For a critique of the Fraser Report, see Kanter, 1985; Lowman et al, 1986; O’Connell, 1988.

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