No such thing as a typical john, says researcher
"Perverts," Justice Minister Peter MacKay calls prostitutes' customers. They're "consumers of this degrading practice" of buying sex, MacKay told reporters on June 4. In legislation he tabled on the same day, that is a criminal offence.
However, one academic researcher says Bill C-36, otherwise known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, represents a lack of understanding of people who pay for sex.
UVic's Chris Atchison knows because he's been studying them for about 20 years. The researcher also doesn't think that there is even such a thing as a "typical john".
"People who purchase sexual services come from all walks of life," Atchison told the Straight by phone. "They're male, they're female, they're couples, they're homosexuals, they're heterosexuals, they're bisexuals. They come from all racial and ethnic categories.
"Certainly, they don't all turn to purchasing sexual services for identical reasons or to have identical needs addressed," he continued. "Some of these individuals are physically disabled. Some of these individuals have great social stigmas, social-anxiety disorders. And some are individuals who…just…are lacking a partner, a widower, and so on and so forth. And then, also, you have individuals who are just looking to have, you know, sexual needs fulfilled."
In his 2010 study of male clients, titled John's Voice, Atchison established that most of them would never hurt their escorts, from whom they mainly seek "companionship".
Although Vancouver Rape Relief and Women's Shelter applauds the criminalization of clients as well as pimps, the organization has "mixed feelings" about Bill C-36, according to spokesperson Hilla Kerner.
Kerner says the legislation penalizes the most vulnerable sex workers: the ones who work on the street. The bill prohibits communicating in a public place where people under the age of 18 are expected to be around.
"We will not accept laws that criminalize women," Kerner told the Straight in a phone interview.
As for the government's announcement of a $20-million fund to help women across Canada exit the sex trade, Kerner says: "It's ridiculous."