Identifying Research Gaps in the Prostitution Literature
Canadian political rhetoric about prostitution is mainly abolitionist or prohibitionist. On the grounds that they do not want to be seen to condone prostitution, most politicians staunchly refuse to talk about where street prostitution might be relocated. And yet, prostitution is legal, and a widespread municipally licensed prostitution business is flourishing across Canada. By way of example, consider the prostitution licensing system now operating in Vancouver.
The City of Vancouver License By Law No. 4450 provides a schedule of annual licensing fees for various businesses, and provides a series of definitions to distinguish them. When it comes to prostitution, five categories are of particular interest:
- Dating Services;
- Escort Services
- Massage Parlours;
- Health Enhancement Centres;
- Body Rub Parlours/Body-Painting Studios/Model Studios.
These By-laws read as follows:
Dating Service (By-laws 5283-1979; 6038-1986; 6646-1990)
Every person operating a dating service shall:
- supply the license Inspector with the name, age, address and description of every person proposed to be employed or engaged in the business;
- notify within 72 hours of any change of personnel; and
- maintain a written record of all persons registered with the dating service showing their name and address and the name and address of the person to whom they have been referred for a social engagement.”
Social Escort Service (By-laws 6373-1988; 6466-1989, 6646-1990)
- Every applicant for a license to operate as a Social Escort Service shall include in the application the trade name or names under which such business will operate and advertise.
- Every person who intends to operate or advertise a Social Escort Service under a trade name other than that specified in the application for a license shall notify the Inspector in writing of the intended trade name at least 14 days prior to its use.
- No person carrying on the business of a Social Escort Service shall offer the services or name of any Social Escort, or introduce customers or potential customers to any Social Escort, unless that escort is at least nineteen years old.
- No person carrying on the business of a Social Escort shall offer the services or name of any person required to be licensed pursuant to this By-law unless that person is so licensed.
- At all times during which the premises specified in the license application as the place of business of the Social Escort Service are open for business the operator or a licensee or employee shall be present on the premises.
- Every person carrying on the business of a Social Escort Service shall:
- maintain on the premises a list of all current employees and all persons being handled on an agency basis; and
- upon request make such a list available for inspection by the Inspector or Chief Constable.”
Steam Bath and Massage Parlour (By-laws 4782-1974; 6038-1986; 6646-1990)
- No person owning, keeping, maintaining or operating any bath, steam bath, or massage parlour shall allow or permit any person of the male sex to act therein as an attendant or employee in respect of any person , customer or patron of the female sex; or allow or permit any person of the female sex to act as an attendant or employee in respect of any person, customer or patron of the male sex; nor shall any person so owning, keeping, maintaining or operating any bath, steam bath or massage parlour attend, treat or serve any person, customer or patron thereof of the opposite sex.
- Every person owning, keeping, maintaining or operating any bath, steam bath, or massage parlour shall provide and keep therein a written and legible record in journal form of all persons using the facilities of the said bath, steam bath, or massage parlour to record his or her name and home address together with the date and time of such registration in such register.
- No person owning, keeping, maintaining or operating any steam bath shall allow persons of the opposite sex to occupy the same room or adjoining rooms with an inter-communicating door or which have doors opening into a common steam room. PROVIDED, however, that a person may maintain a steam bath having a family room intended to be occupied and occupied by members of the same family, if such a room is closed off from the rest of the steam bath by a door.
- Every person owning, keeping, maintaining or operating any bath, steam bath, or massage parlour shall ensure that the interior of the premises is at all times during business hours illuminated to a minimum of ten foot candles in every part thereof.
Health Enhancement Centre (By-laws 6830-1991; 7052-1992)
- The Inspector shall not issue a license for a health enhancement centre unless satisfied that either the applicant for the license or an officer of the applicant demonstrates a knowledge and understanding of the art and practice of reflexology, shiatsu, biokinesiology, hellework, polarity, reiki, rolfing or the trager approach, or any other therapeutic touch technique, and the Inspector may, in that regard, require the applicant or officer to take and pass an examination.
- Every person carrying on the business of a health enhancement centre shall ensure that all persons hired to administer a therapeutic touch technique are qualified in that respect and have not been convicted of an offence under sections 212 or 213 of the Criminal Code.
- No person carrying on the business of a health enhancement centre shall employ any person to administer a therapeutic touch technique unless that person is at least 19 years of age.
- No person carrying on the business of a health enhancement centre shall remain open for business or administer a therapeutic touch technique between the hours of 12.00 midnight and 8.00 a.m.
- No person carrying on the business of a health enhancement centre shall allow any employee or other person on the premises to engage in or offer to engage in an act of prostitution.”
Body Rub Parlour/Body-Painting Studio/Model Studio (By-laws 4957-1976; 4969-1976; 5283--1979; 6596-1989; 6646-1990; 6830-1991; 7052-1992)
- Every applicant for a license to operate a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio shall supply the Chief Constable and the Inspector with the name, age, address and sex of all persons employed by the applicant.
- No person carrying on the business of operating a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio shall
- employ any person on the licensed premises unless such a person is 19 years of age or over;
- permit any person to be on the licensed premises at any time unless such a person is 19 years of age or over
- Every applicant for a license for a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio shall be accompanied by a floor plan of the entire premises in such scale and detail as may be prescribed by the Inspector, and when any alterations are made to the licensed premises, plans thereof shall be filed with the Inspector forthwith.
- All rooms used for a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or nude photography shall comply with the following condition:
- shall not be less than 2.4 metres by 2.4 metres;
- shall not be equipped with any locking device;
- other than a door providing entrance thereto, shall not have any means by which any person may view the interior thereof;
- shall be equipped with lighting of at least 50 candle power which shall remain “on” when the door is closed.
- No person who carries on the business of operating a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio shall permit any person to enter or remain thereon between the hours of 12 midnight and 8.00 a.m.
- No person carrying on the business of a body-rub shall permit any person engaged in providing a body rub in the licensed premises to perform the same unless the person is wearing clean, washable, non-transparent outer garments covering his or her body between the neck and the top of the knee, the sleeves of which do not reach below the elbows.
- No body-rub parlour proprietor shall exhibit himself or herself nor permit other persons to exhibit themselves, in any window on or about the licensed premises, or exhibit or permit to be exhibited any sign outside of the premises showing any nude male or female body, or any part thereof, nor any printed words that might indicate that the licensed premises is a place that offers any form of sexual or nude entertainment.
- No person carrying on the business of a body-rub parlour shall practice or provide or permit the practice or provision therein of a therapeutic touch technique or advertise in any way that a therapeutic touch technique is available or being practiced on the premises.
- Any club subject to regulation under By-law No. 2647 providing any services similar to a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio shall, in addition to any other licensing requirement, obtain a body-rub parlour, body painting studio or model studio license pursuant to Schedule “A” and shall comply with the regulations set forth in this section.”
A reading of these by-laws suggests that the City is attempting to limit prostitution to two venues: body-rub parlours and escort services. These are the only By-laws that require the owner of the establishment to report the names and addresses of employees to the police.
Note that, unlike the By-law for a health enhancement centre, the body rub By-law does not expressly prohibit acts of prostitution on the premise. In body-rubs, women are allowed to provide services to men (body rubs employ mostly women), but only persons of the same sex are allowed to provide services in massage parlours and steam baths (some of which also serve as venues for prostitution). While the body-rub By-law prohibits both the advertising of and the provision of a therapeutic touch technique, it prohibits only the advertising of “sexual entertainment.” In contrast, the health enhancement centre By-law expressly prohibits acts of prostitution from occurring on the premises. The innuendo is that “sexual entertainment” can occur in a body-rub parlour. The regulatory definition of a
“body-rub” (Vancouver License By-law, p.2) confirms this:
“Body rub” includes the manipulating, touching or stimulating by any means, of a person’s body or part thereof, but does not include medical, therapeutic or cosmetic massage treatment given by a person duly licensed…
Since a body-rub parlour is a “business” providing a service for which the patron pays, surely this leaves only one thing: acts of prostitution.
The distinction between dating services and social escort services is less clear. The distinction seems to have been wrought in the early 1990s. Prior to this, escort agencies advertised under both “dating” and “escort” headings in the Telephone Yellow Pages. More recently, however, they have advertised only under the title “escort.” If escort services are simply providing introductions -- i.e. “dates” -- why is the regulatory distinction of “dating” and “social escorts” necessary? Apparently its purpose is to clarify which business is involved in commercial sex. In the case of dating services, the names of both parties have to be recorded. In the case of escort services, only the service provider’s name has to be recorded. This way the client’s anonymity can be preserved -- in which case if he wants to purchase sex, he has an incentive to go to the “correct” venue.
Now consider the fees the City charges for different categories of business: There are roughly 150 license fee categories in Vancouver. 115 categories of business involve an annual fee of less than $200.00. Another 24 are between $201.00 and $500.00. Only a handful are more than $500.00 (e.g. pubs and cabarets are $556.00; a public market is $886.00; concert halls vary from $1839.00 to $2644.00 depending on seating capacity; an amusement park is $3156; the horse racing track is $7473, and the Pacific National Exhibition is $10,463)
Annual License Fees:
- Dating Services $104.00
- Massage Parlours $172.00
- Health Enhancement Centres $160.00
- Body Rub Parlours/etc. $6,527.00
- Escort Services $802.00
- At just over $6500.00, a body-rub parlour license is the 3rd most expensive in Vancouver after the Pacific National Exhibition and the horse racing track.
Does the Regulation Work?
In 1998, although more than 80 escort services advertised in the Vancouver Yellow Pages, only 31 were licensed, yielding a paltry $24,862 for the city coffers. And the city issued only 98 individual escort licenses, an average of three per agency, which yielded another $10,584. There was just one licensed body rub. If we add to these revenues the three steam baths where male prostitution sometimes occurs ($179 each) the city received just over $42,500 from prostitution in 1997.
Does this mean that the off-street prostitution trade is relatively small, or that most of it is not licensed? We suspect that it is the latter, and that more people work in the off-street prostitution trade than work on the street. We know from sex sellers and buyers interviewed in Vancouver that some massage parlours and health enhancement centres are fronts for prostitution. Why pay many thousands of dollars for a body rub license when a massage parlour license is one fortieth of the cost? As to men and women working as escorts, why would they want to create an indelible record of their sex work with the city authorities?
If we examine law enforcement patterns, it is clear that off-street prostitution is not a priority. 95% of all charges are for “communicating.” Since the early 1970s Canadian police have paid progressively less and less attention to bawdy house violations and off-street prostitution in general. In the early 1970s there were from 800 to 1200 bawdy house charges a year Canada-wide as compared to about 200 a year now. Perhaps it is the memory of what happened on the streets of Toronto and Vancouver in the 1970s when police closed down the off-street venues that makes the players in today’s off-street prostitution trade (including city councils, which arguably live on the avails) almost immune from prosecution.
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