Strolling Away

SECTION 1 - The Youngest Profession – The Oldest Oppression (1991-1992)

SECTION 1 - The Youngest Profession – The Oldest Oppression (1991-1992)

1.1 The Impetus of the Research

Is there a relationship between a previous history of sexual abuse and the eventual entrance into the sexual exploitation trade?

After working with young people involved in the sexual exploitation trade in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary and spending one year in an observational and interview research study in downtown Calgary in 1991, it became apparent that many of the young people working the streets had a prior background of sexual and physical abuse. My goal was to undertake research that could assist professional service providers, government and academics working with this population.

Spending an average of four evenings a week in the downtown core, I was often located in the non-profit street program Exit Van that provided support to young people involved in sexual exploitation [2]. My research represented 50 interviews with nine young men and 41 young women and was entitled, "The Youngest Profession – The Oldest Oppression".

1.2 Process

To assist in the interview process, I developed, in collaboration with the Youth In Care and Custody Network, an open-ended interview questionnaire. The lines of inquiry covered the following areas: demographics, family history and background, sexual abuse, violence, school experiences, running history, alcohol and drug abuse, statutory agency involvement, working life, physical and mental health concerns, and antecedents and contributing factors leading to prostitution.

1.3 Methodology

I used Grounded Theory and Feminist research principles in the research.

"I used the combined inductive approach of Grounded Theory and a Feminist methodology to be complementary. Grounded Theory allowed the opportunity for immersion into the sex worker’s life, and the feminist methodology insisted upon face to face interviews and recognized that this would have a direct impact upon the researcher."(McIntyre, 1994:6)

Snowball sampling was also used. Of the 50 young people interviewed, 41 were females and nine males.

To ensure comfort, safety and confidentiality, interviews occurred in the subject’s homes, my office or after hours at the Exit Community Outreach Program office. The interviews lasted anywhere from two to seven hours and were taped and transcribed. To ensure confidentiality in the research report, in most cases pseudonyms were assigned to the interview subjects.

1.4 Respondents’ Characteristics

  • 82% female, 12% male.
  • 26% were of Aboriginal descent.
  • 60% were involved with Social Services Child Protection.
  • 84% had "runaway" overnight before street involvement.
  • 76% entered the sexual exploitation trade prior to age 16.
  • 86% entered the sexual exploitation trade prior to age 18.
  • 78% of the females reported sexual abuse prior to entrance into the sexual exploitation trade.
  • 100% of the males reported sexual abuse prior to entrance into the sexual exploitation trade.
  • 75% of females reported physical abuse prior to entrance into the sexual exploitation trade.
  • 55% of males reported physical abuse prior to entrance into the sexual exploitation trade.

1.5 Policy Implications

Part of the research objectives was to determine the level of responsibility within Calgary’s professional community for dealing with youth involved in the sexual exploitation trade. A total of 255 questionnaires were distributed to police, judges, municipal politicians, teachers, social workers, youth workers and therapists. With a response rate of 43%, the survey revealed that no service or department took responsibility for this population.

"It would seem that the Calgary professional community is clear as to what the needs of this population are; the crucial question is who should be delivering them and how to develop and educate those clients and professionals about the services. It would be safe to conclude that no clear mandate exists within Calgary’s professional community in reference to sex work." (McIntyre, 1994:128)

As a result of this research, a City of Calgary Municipal Task Force was established in 1995. Co-chaired by Alderman Bev Longstaff and myself, this Task Force took the needed first step in recognizing that child prostitution was a form of child sexual abuse and ultimately, changing a culture that historically saw youth involved in prostitution as criminals. They were now seen as victims of sexual abuse, many with histories of sexual abuse prior to their street involvement.

A 1998 Alberta Task Force chaired by a Member of the Alberta Legislative Assembly, Heather Forsyth, implemented legislative changes to the Child Welfare Act to include prostitution as a form of sexual abuse. This was the beginning of ensuring that youth involved in prostitution stayed on the agenda of government and the general public. In 1999, the Alberta Government’s often controversial "Protection of Children Involved in Prostitution Act" (PCHIP) was enacted and amended following a constitutional challenge.

1.6 Program Implications

Corresponding with the legislative changes were program changes. Programs for this population such as Outreach Street Services, were set up across all provinces and territories in Canada within the last five years.


[2] Exit Community Outreach is a program managed by Woods Homes of Calgary.

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