Strolling Away

SECTION 3 – Strolling Away Major Findings (cont'd)

SECTION 3 – Strolling Away Major Findings (cont'd)

3.12 Almost Returned

Once a person left the street, the likelihood of returning was always a possibility – even if it was only a short-term solution. Many individuals believed that if they returned to the street for just a few days they could make some quick money. However, street culture was all consuming and within a short period of time, an individual out for a quick solution, became ingrained in the culture. The belief in this short-term solution addressed the number of times people left the street.

"I had no money I guess. Um, more, if I’d had more self respect ya know like I didn’t really have a lot of, well I don’t know cuz I want to say I didn’t really have a lot of awareness of how it would damage me in the long term, which it has ya know. But it don’t sound true when I say that now based on what I said when I was 18, you know cuz I obviously knew back then it was going to damage me." (Matthew)

Most of us have the resources available for quick income, whether it is to drive a taxi, work overtime, contract work, or financial assistance from family and friends. This research population was accustomed to instant cash and waiting for paycheques or loan approval was not only unfamiliar but also tedious. These individuals were often unable or unwilling to once again access cash from family or friends. Their street experience had taught them a form of independence and they felt embarrassed to ask their family or friends to assist them.

"When you, when you have no money and you’re on the streets, it was a lot easier to go back. You know what you were doing, it was an easy way to get money." (Jessica)

Money was more important to females than males as a motivator to return to the street. With well over three-quarters of women in this sample having had children, financial need to support children was critical. Minimum wage employment combined with day care costs meant being below the average of the working poor. While social assistance provided some financial support, it limited the opportunity to earn additional money. If more money was earned, it had to be claimed and the assistance allowance was decreased. Returning to the street offered an instant solution without government financial sanction. Quick, non-taxable, non-traceable cash became a solution.

"With three kids I just want my kids to have not everything but to have, you know, I don’t want them known as being on welfare with kids, so. Like being in drama right now, he is in cubs, you know, as well as … Welfare sure doesn’t pay for that." (Karen)

Given the early age of entrance into the sexual exploitation trade it was clear that young women did not have employment skills. Applying for, maintaining and earning a reasonable wage was not within their grasp at this point. Women had the added stress of providing for their children.

Young males were more likely to have the opportunity to earn and had the flexibility to attain work in a number of settings. Casual unskilled physical labour was easy to acquire for the male population whereas female casual labour, such as being a waitress, often required experience and training.

It was more common for the male population to experience loneliness. It was possible that the role and significance of childbirth for young women took care of the female need of self-fulfilment and recognition. Males did not have the opportunity to have their own personal role redefined by the birth of a child. While in a position to father a child, the male’s role was somewhat limited and removed if on the street.

"Like so what brought me back? I think it was, so if I tried to mix with mainstream folks, but it just wasn’t happening you know what I mean? Playing around in somebody’s basement playing hockey, like air hockey, or playing cops and robbers for real seemed to be a lot more exciting to me." (Harry)

3.13 Steps Leaving

Many individuals who left the street were surprised at the difficulty and length of the exiting process. In the trade these individuals were self-sufficient. While in many cases females had to hand their earnings to "their man (pimp)," their immediate food, shelter and clothing needs were covered.

As males don’t have pimps, they often shared their earnings/money with their friends or supplied the cash for parties. Males do not work as long hours or as often as women. They tend to work for the cash to party or to pay for other needs. Once that money has been earned they stop working for that day.

"I’d rather smoke pot or do mushrooms, and so any money I got went to booze or to pay rent, or food or whatever. Just hanging out. So at that point it was just really lifestyle." (Harry)

However, once an individual exited the trade, they were fully dependent on family, friends or society to achieve their basic needs. This dependency was a humbling experience.

"It surprised me that I could humble myself to take a bus. That was the ultimate shocker. That was my biggest shocker. Seriously. And the job really surprised me, that I got a regular office job. That blew me away. I was able to do it and do it well." (Samantha)

As mentioned earlier, moving away and establishing a distance from their "street supports" was important. Both males and females viewed distance as important in the separation.

"The company I was keeping. My boyfriend at the time, his best friend was dating a dancer, so I was sort of getting back into, with those people. Of course, I was starting to go out to the bars again and I started associating with his friends." (Sandra)

Reconnection to family was very important. Females were more likely to remain connected with their families. The "homophobic’ reaction towards males in the sexual exploitation trade often created distance from family of origin and supports. Males tended to be transient in their working locations. All the males in this sample had been involved in the sexual exploitation trade in at least three city centres. The fear of recognition haunted both genders so movement provided a recognition protection mechanism.

Rediscovering self and determination were important exiting factors for one-third of thefemale population in the research. This rediscovery was often the impetus for self-discovery. Entering the sexual exploitation trade at an average age of 15 years resulted in limited self-discovery and awareness. Discovery and learning to live confronted each person when they exited.

"I had to get up in the morning and look at myself as a person, not an object. I had to get drug counseling, and sexual assault counseling. I had to get in touch with myself. I had to do things that I never thought I could do, like, um, admit that I am a drug addict, admit that I’m addicted to money, and drugs and everything else. I had to surrender." (Shelly)

"How to stay away from the people probably…how to budget… And then how to keep myself entertained."(Rita)

To survive in the sexual exploitation trade, an individual had to develop a "streetpersona" – apersonality that could endure in the street. Leaving the street did not always mean leaving the street persona behind. The street persona was tough and spirited as these were necessary traits for survival. When exiting, this street persona often became an impediment when these individuals accessed education, employment and rebuilt personal and family relationships.

"And coming off the streets and trying to go into a regular high school where, I wasn’t still doing that stuff but I hadn’t gotten rid of my hitting and punching people or you know jumping, not jump jumping on people in a sexual way, but jumping on people and saying really inappropriate stuff." (Helen)

After exiting, the feisty street survival nature often appeared in relationships. Previous relationship experience was based on negotiations with pimps, customers, police, social service agencies and other street workers. Once these individuals left the trade and established personal relationships they entered uncharted waters. Their experience with the mainstream world that was outside prostitution was limited.

"That I’m not, um, well one that I wasn’t better than everybody else. Because, and I know that sounds weird and you wouldn’t think that being a hoe, but you make yourself believe that your different, because you’re almost super-human. So, I had to look at things differently, um, and that was a big challenge for me, and not like, I said, not separate myself from square and live." (Allison)

Again, given the young age of entrance into the trade, relationship experience was minimal. With a history of sexual abuse this research population entered the trade through a relationship with an individual who was looking to benefit from their exploitation. Balanced, healthy relationships were foreign to this population.

"Yeah, I can laugh and joke, I can sit down and watch a movie now. And like it was a whole different world for me to be able to sit down, and actually cook a home cooked meal with me and my husband and sit at the kitchen table and eat. Instead of going out and eating fast food restaurants or grabbing something on the run or whatever. Like that was a whole different world. I didn’t know how to be a normal person. And I had to learn all over, its like someone losing the feelings in their legs and get them back and learning how to walk again." (Jessica)

Challenges such as budgeting, sexual intimacy and controlling drug use were continual hurdles to face in exiting. A one-day-at-a-time approach was commonplace.

3.14 Afterthoughts

The street trade provided the following short-term solutions: autonomy, financial independence, control, sense of self worth, survival, control of abuse, entry into adulthood, experiences with drug and alcohol, and high energy activity and excitement.

Many interviewed had become disillusioned with their personal choices. They questioned their self-worth; given their decision to enter the street. Even if their tenure on the street was short-lived, they departed with scars.

"…well they’d remember it everyday for the rest of their lives. They’d remember the smell, the taste the looks, you don’t forget." (Nicky)

"And, it made me a different person. It showed me a different way of life that, I shouldn’t have learned that early in life. I think it was dangerous." (Shelly)

It is significant that in 1991-1992, the majority - if not all of those respondents who were questioned - viewed entering the street as a bad choice. Ten years later, even with 20/20 hindsight being factored in, entering the street was still perceived as as an action that may have been necessary for survival, but ultimately not a wise decision.

3.15 Thinking About the Street

The majority believed that the street was not a positive environment. In fact, this population believed this experience would affect the rest of their lives.

"And there comes a point where it becomes very clear that that’s disappearing; that a piece of you is being stripped away every time you turn a trick. And it’s your dignity basically, so it became very clear to me after a year that that was, that there wasn’t very much of that left and it was fine. If I was going to do anything with my life to get that back or I would never be able to move on from there. And that became very clear. That I had a very clear sense of who I was before I went onto the street, so you recognize it right away when it starts to disappear." (Patricia)

While two females viewed the street as providing some good times, not one male saw it in that manner.

"The abuse I faced, as a child and young person do not have to be repeated by other boys and young men. There must be work done in this area to help examine the issues that this population face and what support they require to exit from the commercial trade." (Harry)

Eighty-four percent of those interviewed had experienced sexual abuse before the streetandoften they perceived this abuse as a contributor to their entry onto the street. After exiting, individuals were often overcome with the memories of the abuse as small children and on the street. These individuals recognized the street to be abusive and self-deprecating.

"The most challenging, …I think breaking the pattern of allowing myself to abuse myself or be abused and further create, like being abused or allowing myself to be abused, I haven’t allowed myself to heal enough to be comfortable…that’s been one of the hardest."(Katlyn)

However, by coming to terms with the abuse on the streets, the unresolved initial sexual abuse often resurfaced. In a strange way, the street protected them from dealing with or achieving resolution of the sexual abuse they experienced earlier in their lives.

"I use to enjoy sex, but now I just can’t even stand it. I don’t even really like when people touch me, you know when he touches me I don’t even like it and should be and, it’s not that I don’t love him, its just that I feel uncomfortable. You know, I’m having like, I used to dream in black and white, and now I dream in color. And now its like it’s more real I guess. A lot of things I forgot, I’m starting to remember, so it’s scarier for me." (Shelly).

3.16 Thoughts on Departing

Often it is believed that once a person has made the decision to leave the street they never return.

"Strolling Away" revealed that almost two-thirds of those interviewed described their journey after the street as a battle.

"I would tell them that they would probably expect a bumpy road ahead of them. That it’s not going to be, it’s probably going to be harder or tougher than it is living on the street …Lot’s of disappointments." (Sandra)

Some individuals were optimistic as they could see the light at the end of the tunnel. However at times this light was very dim. While services were provided to individuals who were on the street, there was little long-term assistance for the exiting process.

"One of the things I tell them is if you’re waiting for somebody to come and save you, you might die. If you are waiting for someone to come and fix you, you will stay broken." (Cherry)

3.17 Surprise Findings

The respondents were surprised by the following findings:

  1. One-quarter of the females in the sample identified the departure as a long journey.

    "To expect to constantly want to go back, to always have the urge…and it’s that life is a lot harder living it normally than it is on the street." (Andrea)


  2. Close to one-quarter of males and females were surprised they were able to leave and live a life beyond the street. Many were shocked that they had experienced a successful transition.

    "I guess the biggest surprise is how strong a person that I really am. How good of a person that I am, and all the potential that I have that I’ve never, never really saw or had the encouragement to realize that um, I can conquer this, I can do this, I have done things. That that’s sometimes just, surprises the hell out of me." (Sandra)


  3. Close to one-quarter of both males and females experienced negative encounters once they left the street. While they believed and expected negative and dishonest interactions on the street, they did not expect such encounters in the "straight world." Although their day-to-day life from the street had changed, they had not expected this untrusting behavior to occur off the street.

    "You realize that you pick up a lot more things from people, you become more observant, more aware. You just pay attention a lot better and you put things out and ya know, and you find lies. There’s a lot of lies in the real world." (Luke)


3.18 Rituals

One of the residues from a life on the street involved in sexual exploitation was the carryover of rituals. Many individuals from the street adopt behaviour patterns that are associated with the trade and these patterns or rituals carryover after they leave the street.

Twenty percent of the total population participated in money rituals. This included carrying money in undergarments, shoes and hiding it in numerous places around their homes.

"Like you never saved, you always just spent it. You live for the moment. And I still do that with money. If I have a chunk of money, you know if I get money for my birthday whatever, I’m out of here, I’m gone and I’m spending. And I’ll spend it down to the last dime." (Kathleen)

Many of the individuals lived in fear of someone accessing their funds. Numerous bank accounts were commonplace. Given the controlling nature of this business by pimps and the excessive spending habits of those who benefited from the cash, numerous strategies were developed to hide and control the money made in the trade.

"Stashing my money. I would always stash it always did whatever, I would stash it somewhere. I wouldn’t just have it in my wallet." (Samantha)

"I have secret bank accounts all over. I have like five or six of them." (Sandra)

A cautious, suspicious nature was ever present. Nervousness in reference to possible recognition from their past life was also apparent.

Intensive cleansing rituals such as the daily changing of family member bedding, were also noted. Extensive self-cleaning through very hot showers and the use of baby wipes was not uncommon.

"I’d have to use baby wipes when I started going to the washroom. And anti-bacterial soap, I’d always clean with that, its like gel not soap. Um, you know when I get pay cheques, I cash it and carry the whole wad in my pocket." (Sheila)

"And it doesn’t matter, I could go, I mean if I run to the store, I’ve got to take a bath. If I go grocery shopping, when I get home, I put the groceries away and into the bath…we came home from the Laundromat and I had to bath…He says, "You don’t stink that bad. Why are you bathing like three times a day?" And I say, just a habit, I don’t know." (Liz)

A disturbing carryover ritual for both the female and male population was the pattern of disassociation during sexual activity.

"I certainly didn’t really like sex for a long time. Didn’t even really like sex before I started doing this job either…and eh, dancing certainly didn’t help that …slobs and not really a romantic evening." (Sandra)

"And I have a sex problem, big time. I don’t enjoy it very much, its not too enjoyable, it’s getting better but it takes a real long time to get over memories and just really bad things. Yeah I probably really have a lot of really bad things that are still surfacing, once in awhile I get flashbacks." (Beth)

Often these individuals would "service " their partners. This pattern was used and well developed during early abuse and street sexual exploitation. As long as the abuse and exploitation remained unresolved the response of disassociation would continue.

"The technique or strategy of disassociation from the experience occurring is one that many sex workers have experience in. Individuals with a history of abuse often use this technique to insulate themselves from the abuse they are experiencing." (McIntyre, 1994:178)

Males were clear in seeing their survival work as having a negative effect on their lives.

"…for a female sex trade worker she can just moan moreover, pretend, but for males they have to look aroused, you must have some signs of an erection". This young man noted that even if he is giving a blow job to a customer, the customer will always take note of whether he is aroused or not." (McIntyre 1994:181)

3.19 Off the Street

Permanently leaving the sexual exploitation trade was a challenging experience.

No one in the research population was still working in the sexual exploitation trade full time. However one individual who never left the street trade still works two days a week.

Close to three-quarters of those interviewed were totally distanced and far away from the trade.

Twenty percent still worked in some form of the trade in times of financial need – such as going into the trade every few months for an evening. This occurred through phone ads, contact with regular customers, escort service, dancing or street work. This group saw their short-term return as a cash solution for special needs such as family birthdays, Christmas or household needs.

A small portion continued working a few days a week. They all stated a desire to leave permanently but this has yet to occur. The sexual exploitation trade for this group was their livelihood. [4]


[4] Note that % may have rounding error on each of the tables.

Date modified: