Laval takes a stand against sexual exploitation of teens

Laval is doubling down against prostitution with a declaration against sexual exploitation of young people.

On Wednesday, the city, police, and social services representatives gathered to sign a "Youth Prevention" declaration, and to launch a website called zeroexploitation.ca, to denounce the targeting of teen girls.

"When it comes to a teenager it is exploitation," says Marie-Claude Cote director of victims aid centre CAVAC. "We can't call that prostitution because it's really a young girl who is being exploited and it's a criminal act."

Sex worker advocates are concerned by Laval's tactics saying they're using child exploitation to further a political narrative that further marginalizes adult sex workers.

"The impact of this public discourse that conflates sex work with exploitation, that over states the actual presence of minors in the industry and that denies the agency of women involved is usually more police repression against adult sex workers and our clients and colleagues, more racial profiling against young black men and more stigma" says Sandra Wesley Director General with Chez Stella. 

She says that Laval is cracking down on sex work in a way that makes it less visible to the public, and less safe for those working in the industry.

"Sex workers in Laval are still reeling from the abrupt closure of the vast majority of massage parlours in January by city council, which displaced women into isolated, informal working spaces and made them vulnerable to violence, extortion and exploitation," says Wesley. "This new initiative shows that, once again, elected officials and groups who profit from all the funding for sexual exploitation projects are willing to sacrifice the lives of sex workers to gain political points."

No minors were discovered working in the massage parlours during those raids.

The spotlight has been on Laval since five teen girls ran away from group homes over a short period of time in 2016 drawing significant public scrutiny.

The Laval Youth Prevention Program website says that the average age of entry into prostitution is 14 or 15, but Stella says this is a misquote from a study that has been repeated by anti-prostitution activists for years.

"Our outreach team makes around 8000 contacts with sex workers every year and the majority of women we meet are in their 30s or 40s," says Wesley."Women aged 19 and under only represent 0.5% of the people we meet and this is representative of the reality of the sex industry."

The Youth Prevention Program is largely a public service announcement to affect the way the public talks about youth sex work, drawing a hard line in the sand with terminology. The city will heretofore refer to "pimps" as "exploiters", "clients" as "abusers" and "young prostitutes" as "victims". 

The zerotolerance.ca website reads "To make a prostitute, you must destroy a girl" which Wesley says is offensive.

"This campaign uses violent, dehumanizing language, relies on flawed or made up data, and ignores the lived experiences of those it claims to want to help," says Wesley. "Talking about youth involvement in exchanging sexual services is difficult and emotional, but the conversations that are needed are about the needs of youth, their motivations, the impacts of youth detention, as well as issues of poverty, consent, healthy relationships, freedom and independence that are much broader than the sex industry."