Why an Ottawa professor says pimps keep sex workers safe

Pimps are necessary to arrange safe and efficient transactions between sex workers and clients, according to a University of Ottawa professor who spoke to CBC about her new book on Canada's sex industry.

Chris Bruckert interviewed 75 'third-party' workers for new book on Canada's sex industry

A new book by a University of Ottawa professor says pimps arrange safe and efficient transactions between sex workers and clients. (Mark Blinch / Canadian Press)

Pimps are necessary to arrange safe and efficient transactions between sex workers and clients, according to a University of Ottawa professor who says their work should be decriminalized in Canada.

"The sex industry, like mainstream businesses, rarely depends exclusively on clients and workers to operate efficiently and safely," professor Chris Bruckert told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday.

"Contrary to prevailing stereotypes that portray third parties [like pimps] as inherently abusive and controlling, these workers fulfill important roles and provide vital services."

Bruckert and her team of researchers conducted interviews with 75 pimps — or "third-party" workers, as she prefers to call them — as well as 52 sex workers for her new book Getting Past 'the Pimp': Management in the Sex Industry.

The interviews included people from across the country, including Ottawa.

Chris Bruckert is a University of Ottawa professor whose team carried out dozens of interviews with pimps — including some in Ottawa — for a new book that explores those workers' roles in the country's sex industry. (Chris Bruckert)

Constitutional challenge

The national debate around prostitution laws is intensifying as a court in London, Ont., hears a constitutional challenge against Canada's 2014 prostitution law Bill C-36 — which criminalizes the buying of sex but decriminalizes its sale.

The laws also prosecute those who advertise sex work and make money off sex workers. 

What we need in that context is labour rights, not necessarily criminal laws.- Chris  Bruckert , University of Ottawa professor 

Bruckert said little research has been conducted on the role of pimps in the industry, adding that many people's opinions are based on stereotypes. 

"Abuse wasn't something we came across — but we did find bad labour practices," she said. "What we need in that context is labour rights, not necessarily criminal laws." 

The problem, Bruckert said, is sex workers have no mechanism to redress labour exploitation outside of criminal law.

Most of the third-party workers Bruckert's team spoke to were women — both surprising and understandable, she said, since the industry is female-dominated and the line between sex work and management is thin. 

"Many of the third-parties we interviewed were current or former sex workers, [which] kind of makes sense. You move into the business that you know," she said. 

'Echoes any other business'

The other unexpected finding, she said, was how similar the sex trade was to any other business.

​"[It's surprising] how absolutely mundane management in the sex industry is [and] how much it echoes any other business," Bruckert said.

"There is marketing, there are security concerns — many of the challenges that any other small business operator would confront.

"We don't need special laws to criminalize the sex industry," she added. "And particularly not third parties."