Ron Chisholm's mysterious encounter with a woman in Dartmouth last month reminded me of my own recent adventure in the City of Lakes. The provincial fisheries minister says a woman tapped on his car window at Tim Hortons and asked for a drive home. "I said no at first, but she started pleading with me," he told the Daily News. "It was a cold night." Chisholm had barely driven a mile when the cops stopped him, took the woman from his car for questioning and sent him on his way. "I had no idea why they wanted to talk to her," Chisholm told the Herald. "They didn't tell me and I didn't ask."
My own adventure happened in December as I was rattling along a Dartmouth street. A young woman quickly stuck out her thumb just after two cops cycled by. I stopped. Once inside the car, she asked if I was on my way to work. "No, just heading to Bedford," I said pulling away from the curb. "Where are you headed?" "I'm not a cop," she answered, reaching over and grabbing my crotch. "Do you want to get laid?" "No," I stammered. "I can't." She pulled her hand away, but seemed agitated. "Why not?" she pleaded. "I just can't," I shouted in panic, stopping the car. She said she was broke and couldn't pay her rent, so I handed her $20. "Would you drive me home?" We wound through the streets of an old neighbourhood. When we stopped, I gave her another $40 because I felt sorry for her, then watched her trudge away.
Obviously Ron Chisholm's experience and mine weren't identical. He says his passenger did not try to solicit him. But both stories are about women getting into cars with strangers while cops lurk in the background. According to a group called Sex Professionals of Canada, it's a dangerous practice that has led to the murders or disappearances of more than 400 street prostitutes since 1985. That's the year a tough law took effect making it a crime for prostitutes to communicate in any way with their clients and giving police wide powers to arrest them. Valerie Scott of Sex Professionals says prostitutes can't work in pairs because they'd attract police attention. So, no one sees which cars they get into. Last month, Scott's group announced plans to challenge the law on the grounds that it deprives sex workers of their Charter rights to freedom and security. The group is also challenging provisions which make it a crime for prostitutes to operate out of their own homes. That part of the law isn't enforced as much however, because indoor prostitution is invisible. And, judging by the number of newspaper ads for adult massage and escort services, it's flourishing in the SuperCity.
Last year, Amy Joy, one of my journalism students, interviewed a woman in HRM who has worked from her home for years. "Usually by nine, nine-thirty, I will start seeing clients," the soft-spoken woman told Joy. "I normally see only three or four a day." She said that even though there's lots of competition, it's easy to clear $6,000 a month by catering to business and professional clients. "A lot of them are very nice," she said, "with nice, normal families.... The truth of the matter is, just like the girls, the clients come to this with their own history which I don't dive into. But some of them are sexual addicts, some of them have sexual idiosyncrasies. Instead of drinking, doing drugs, gambling, they'll come by and see someone like me to relieve that stress."
Over the last few decades, we've largely removed the state from our bedrooms. Divorce is easy, gays can marry and abortion is no longer illegal. But our punitive prostitution laws are still stuck in the dark ages. The main victims are prostitutes, mainly women, who cater to the needs of those "very nice" men with "nice, normal families."
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