CTV Investigates: Selling Sex
Prostitution may be hard to spot in Waterloo region but it's happening on our streets and often. So often police say, laying charges every day is impossible and not a solution.
Sergeant John Van Breda and Detective Constable Graham Hawkins have been patrolling regional streets and dealing with the local sex trade for years.
In Cambridge, they know many of the girls by name. “You'll be able to see cars, driving around the area, we call them sharks and they are obviously men looking for the services of prostitutes” says Van Breda
The sex trade operates 24 hours a day, mainly police say in a concentrated area around Walnut and Wellington streets.“To see the 50- 60 cars driving around pulling over the side of the road, it gives you a better feeling of how big the problem really is” says Van Breda.
Unlike what's seen in the movies, high heels, short skirts and lots of make-up are rarely seen here. Instead the girls are wearing track pants hoodies and ratty jeans. Police say the majority are trying to feed their own dangerous habit.
“The ladies aren't down here by choice… they have major addiction issues. and they don't feel like there is any other way to support that lifestyle" says Van Breda.
Oxy, coccaine, heroin, the women are in so deep, to many it seems impossible to get out. “These women are offering their services, the other spectrum is the johns who are paying for it” says Hawkins.
“There are some johns out there that are incredibly rough...It’s nothing for us to see a girl on a Friday night and to see her again on sat morning or Saturday afternoon and she's got a black eye or a fat lip “ says Van Breda.
Police presence is often high, yet girls continue to vanish from sidewalks.
On one trip, Van Breda and Hawkins are able to track down the truck they're looking for in a dark parking lot. Inside is a man in his 60s, there's a car seat in the back and police are told the agreement was 40 dollars for oral sex.
This incident is just one incident, in one neighbourhood, on one night. Police say keeping a close watch on all of the girls and busting up potentialdeals, is a full time job.
“Ya they are breaking the law... it's a very difficult and labour intensive investigation to do an undercover operation and unfortunately I don’t think its even seen as a real criminal matter” says Van Breda.
Sex trade workers and prospective johns are finding each other everyday in the downtowns of Kitchener and Cambridge.
However in all of 2011, Waterloo Regional police laid only 51 prostitution related chargesand 45 the year before.
Police say they do carry out undercover stings every few months and respond to community complaints.
It cost her, her youth, her self-respect, and half a million dollars.
Day or night it made no difference, Amy would walk the streets, desperate for cocaine. The men who would circle around her wanted something too.
“I remember the first time, I remember hating this guy, what I ended up getting was not what I was promised" says Amy.
Born in Guelph to a loving family, Amy says a serious car accident in her teens left her injured and angry.
“I ran away from home, in search of something to make me feel better...Meghan: and what did you find? Amy: drugs... cocaine specifically.”
To survive and to support her habit she started stripping in a club.
“The lights the glitz the glam I thought it was this glamorous lifestyle”
Her addiction became so severe, it quickly took a toll on her looks and her ability to perform. Soon Amy began working in downtown Cambridge as a prostitute.
“I’d be standing on the street corners, doing it for pitiful amounts of money and sometimes great amounts of money… but more often than not... It was very degrading” says Amy.
“After the car accident... I got a settlement of 500 thousand dollars. I would spend 10 thousand dollars of it at a time on drugs” Meghan: is that money gone? Amy: that money's gone... that money's been gone for a long, long time.”
“I would stop at a thousand dollars 04 that would be when I would I stop. Meghan: and how many men did you have to see to get that? Amy: sometimes one... sometimes... three or four.”
“Horrifying to say it... but I’ve done it for 5 dollars… so I could have enough money to go and buy a piece of drugs.” Amy: How often did you use protection? Most of time, not all the time. Meghan: is that because you didn't have it... or the guy didn’t want it? Amy; some guys would pay more to do it without it.”
A few more dollars meant more drugs. Amy, hoping her story, will keep other women from walking the same path.
“I believe that... it's no way to live your life... it eats you alive... when I lay my head down on the pillow... I can’t believe I've done the things that I’ve done and I can’t take that back so if I can say that... and somebody else could not do it.”
There’s a new high-tech twist to the so-called oldest profession in the world. And police say they can’t keep up.
Violet Umanetz always keeps her car stocked with bags of lubricant, clean needles and condoms. The Hepatitis C prevention worker needs to be ready for the next phone call.
“I’ll drive down to their hotel, or motel, or apartment, or home, and deliver those supplies,” she says.
Umanetz makes deliveries to the women working in the local sex trade, most of whom aren’t working on the street corner, but on the internet.
Every day dozens of posting go up in Waterloo Region. They are filled with racy details, provocative photos and a phone number.
After years of working as a prostitute in downtown Cambridge, Amy started using the internet.
“My phone will ring 50 times… in one day,” she says. “Men looking for company… sex.”
Amy let CTV listen in to one of her calls:
Caller: “Hello? Hello I’m looking for Emily please?”
Amy: “I provide everything with protection, no bare back services… massage, basically all the basic stuff.”
Caller: “How much is it?”
Amy: “$120 for the half [hour], $180 for the hour.”
Many of the women operate out of higher-end hotels in Kitchener and Cambridge. The personal photos they post are often shot inside the room they’ve rented.
Caller: “Would I have to go to the front desk?”
Amy: “No, no, no, you just walk in. Come up to the room. I’ll give you the room number when you get here. And we will do whatever you want. When you leave, you don’t talk to no one, you only talk to me.”
While some of these women travel from city to city, others are making a life for themselves in Waterloo Region.
Umanetz understands that that might surprise people. “That can be really difficult for some people to understand if they view sex work as degrading or a desperate measure or a last ditch thing.”
The internet is making it easier for prostitutes to stay hidden, but it also means victims of the sex trade can slip through the cracks.
This summer, police found a 17-year-old girl inside a Cambridge hotel room. They believe she was being forced to work as a prostitute, with her services advertised online.
“Unfortunately there are women involved in the sex trade that don’t have a choice,” says Detective Graham Hawkins. “They’ve been forced to do this.”
Police say searching for potential victims is their priority.
“Sometimes you actually do see signs of abuse. You can see women who are bruised from attacks.”
Lawyer Stephanie Krug remembers a case involving a 14-year-old Kitchener girl whose services were being advertised on the internet.
“This girl, and her considerably older boyfriend were moving throughout southwestern Ontario, from hotel to hotel. Her mother caught wind of what was going on and her mother called police.”
But police say it’s hard to know the exact number of women who are forced into sex slavery in Waterloo Region, or across Canada. Many of them are hidden inside hotels and homes. Feat and threats keep them from coming forward.
“They have very little choice in what’s happening in their life,” says Sarah Casselman. “They are not the ones benefitting from the sex work that they are doing.”
According to an estimate by the Criminal Intelligence Service of Canada, a pimp can earn close to $300,000 a year from just one prostitute. If they manage five, they can rake in more than $1,500,000 a year.
The more they manipulate their women, the more money they make.
Police in Waterloo Region say the 401 corridor is a lucrative place for human traffickers to do business.
“It’s a difficult thing,” says Det. Hawkins. “They could be here in our region for one night or two night. Then they are off to another city or to another province.”
The Selling Sex series has looked at Waterloo Region’s sex trade, including where and how often it’s happening. That has prompted a lot of discussion from our viewers about how the community should be dealing with the issue.
Amy is writing a break-up letter, not to a boyfriend, but to drugs and prostitution.
“You were the love of my life, my dearest and most precious.”
The letter is her attempt to change her life.
So how to we help girls -- like Amy – who are selling sex?
Karen Taylor-Harrison says the focus should be on the men who are paying for it.
“They are our fathers, our brothers, our uncles, our best friends,” she says. “They are our husbands.”
Taylor-Harrison runs the local “John School,” an option given to men who’ve been arrested on prostitution charges. The school teaches them the hazards of the sex trade, like STDs, violence and trafficking. If the men attend the program, they avoid criminal charges.
Over the last 16 years, roughly 500 men have completed the program.
“If we don’t start opening up our minds… stop seeing every man as an animal and all of this language that goes on, we don’t have a hope,” says Taylor-Harrison. “We will never make a dent in this issue.”
An issue Marian Best has seen first-hand for years.
Best applauds a recent shift in Cambridge, where she says prostitutes are no longer treated like criminals.
“Now the girls know when they see the police… they are really there to protect them and to try and help them.”
But those who live where it’s happening say they’re the ones who have been left to suffer.
“I would like to see this cleaned up,” says Dee. “So I don’t have to be afraid when my daughter goes out into the neighbourhood it’s nerve-wracking, it’s scary. I have to text her… ‘Did you get to work?’ ‘OK, let me know when you leave.’ That’s how scary.”
Hepatitis-C prevention worker Violet Umanetz says legalizing prostitution and providing health services would help reduce the violence.
“Because it’s not going away I think there should be equal protection for men and women who are both involved.”
But not everyone agrees.
“There is already violence with prostitution behind the scenes,” says Best. “So if it’s privatized, it’s still a way of hiding prostitution, hiding the girls. If people want out, how do they get out?”
For Amy, getting out has been a life-long battle.
“Keep them safe, offer the protection they need. Addiction is so powerful you will give up everything for it. I did.”