Volume 93, Issue 25

Thursday, October 14, 1999


Sex in the city of London

Sex in the city of London

Neil Malhotra/Gazette

By Becky Somerville
Gazette Staff

Well endowed, sexy, intelligent, experienced women want to make you feel right tonight. Call now. Discretion assured.

From escort services to body rub parlours and prostitutes, the sex trade industry is certainly not confined to the red light districts of the world. In fact, the prevalence of the sex trade is often glaring and a lot closer to home than we think.

The implications surrounding this industry have recently been questioned by local police, academics, city officials, health experts and the workers themselves. Furthermore, incidents of sexually transmitted diseases as well as matters concerning the legality and the legitimacy of the industry are issues currently being contemplated.

According to Const. Tracey Frizzell, media relations officer for the London Police, undercover work began early this year in an effort to crack down on a ring of body rub parlours which were spread around the city. "Body rub parlours have opened up and [the London Police] were receiving complaints from citizens," Frizzell said. "We were bound to investigate."

What the police found, she explained, were several bawdy houses which, according to section 210 of the criminal code, are buildings occupied for the purpose of prostitution.

"Sexual acts were going on in these places," Frizzell said. She further explained that the undercover work revealed evidence of "rub and tugs," or masturbation of male clients by female workers, nude massages and reverse massages.

As a result of police raids which took place last March, almost 100 people were charged including 16 "keepers," or owners of a bawdy house, 44 "inmates," or employees and 38 "found-ins," or clients, Frizzell said.

She added she does not think this is the end of the sex trade in London, nor is it the end of the London Police's investigation. "We would have to be naive to think we have completely wiped out the body rub parlours in the city," she said. "Hopefully [the raids] will make people realize they have to keep within the criminal code."

Keith McWilliam, owner of one of the London body rub parlours raided by police this spring, explained he does not want to draw police attention to his business.

McWilliam said both his business and all he oversees is legal and within the limits of the criminal code. However, after the raid, the establishment was charged with keeping a common bawdy house.

He added while both the client and the employee are naked during the massage sessions, cleanliness and safety are values consistently upheld. "I don't allow my girls to have intercourse with the clients."

McWilliam added he has had many Western students working at his establishment.

Jamey Swift, manager of licensing and elections for the City of London, explained local adult entertainment facilities and body rub parlours are municipally licensed and have applicable by-laws.

Protecting these by-laws facilitates the enforcement of the criminal code by police, because the activity within the establishments is more easily monitored, Swift said.

"[By-laws and licensing] allows the city to better monitor, inspect and ensure the health and safety of the patrons," Swift said.

He added London does not have a business licensing by-law for escort services. "It is my understanding that [city council] has reviewed it and won't pursue licensing or regulating of escort services," Swift said.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Windsor, however, maintains that municipal licensing of escort services may have some positive effects.

Eleanor Maticka-Tyndale is a University of Windsor sociologist and one of the researchers examining the potential impact of licensing escort services and its affect on the spread of sexually transmitted infections.

"Most areas of sex work are stigmatized within society and very few want attention brought to them," Maticka-Tyndale said. She explained a municipal by-law, such as that in Windsor, gives sex workers a sense of legitimacy where they are part of a mainstream society, rather than being marginalized.

"I'm licensed, official – I'm a business person and I have a job that is recognized," is the mentality which Maticka-Tyndale explained sex workers have when they become municipally licensed.

All of the research done internationally consistently shows there are several things that contribute to people in the sex work industry taking care of their health, she explained. The availability of condoms and the sex workers' ability to be integrated into mainstream society are factors which reduce vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections and disease.

"Let people know they're valued members of society, mainstream and legitimate and they will be more likely to take good care of themselves," Maticka-Tyndale said.

She added most people in Canada do not understand the criminal code with respect to prostitution. "The criminal code does not define 'prostitute' or 'prostitution.' There is no law that prohibits sexual contact with someone else and getting paid for it so long as it's done in private."

In order for licensing to empower and legitimize escorts, the occupational health and safety needs of escorts must be addressed, Maticka-Tyndale added.

Considering whether or not municipal licensing of escort services is appropriate for London, Maticka-Tyndale said it depends on the goals of the city. "Most cities bring in licensing not for health reasons, but to control the industry."

Peggy Hart, owner and sole operator of a London escort service, said many women in the sex trade business have no support networks and are often driven further underground by police raids. "[Sex] is a victimless crime between two consenting adults. People have sex all the time. The police should be out getting murderers and child molesters," Hart said.

As far as licensing goes, Hart said she felt decriminalization would be more effective in giving sex trade workers legitimacy. "Prostitution is legal – soliciting is not," Hart said. "[Licensing] doesn't really make a difference as far as sex workers' rights. All it does is give city hall money."

Alex McKay, research co-ordinator for the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, said the number of people using escort services in Ontario is large and has been increasing over the years. He added while Maticka-Tyndale's study is a merited initiative, it shows Canadian society has an extremely ambivalent attitude towards prostitution.

"I think it's clear that obviously with prostitution you have the risk of STD transmission. If we can better understand it epistemologically and minimize the effects, then our money and efforts are well spent," McKay said.

Photos by Neil Malholtra

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Copyright The Gazette 1999