Buying sex was 'a rush', married man opens up as a john

A married man talks openly about the overwhelming urge he had to buy sex from prostitutes in back alleys while his wife and children were at home.

A look inside the secret life of a john

'Dave', who has been a regular user of prostitutes for years, talks about the sex trade from the point of view of a 'john'. CBC News agreed to mask his identity. (CBC)

A Regina man says he found it easy to buy sex from street prostitutes at least once a month for two decades.

The man, who CBC News is referring to as Dave, was arrested three times under Canada's laws relating to solicitation. But he has never paid a fine nor been sent to jail and he doesn't have a criminal record.

It was more or less the rush, the adrenaline rush.- Dave talks about why he would visit prostitutes

Considering that Canada's prostitution laws are poised to be rewritten, Dave says tougher penalties may have scared him away from the practice, but believes programs to rehabilitate chronic johns would be the most helpful.

"Make sure they're getting the right help," Dave told CBC's Bonnie Allen in an exclusive interview where he spoke openly about his experiences purchasing sex, on a regular basis, over the course of several years and one marriage.

Started at 16

Dave started when he was 16 and a virgin. He says he continued to seek out prostitutes, not for the sex but for the thrill of the illicit encounter.

"It was more or less the rush, the adrenaline rush," he said, admitting he was attracted to the idea of doing something forbidden and dangerous.

Dave says he found all elements of an encounter exciting, even the "cruising" around looking for sex.

The Criminal Code and prostitution:

Prostitution is not illegal in Canada, but many of the activities surrounding the sex trade are against the law. In December 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's laws against street soliciting, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a brothel. 
Currently, it's not against the law for men to buy sex, only communicate in public for the purpose of prostitution.

For more on how the law stands, The website of the Edmonton Police Service offers a complete rundown.

"Driving around the area until one of the ladies appeared, trying to avoid the police, thinking that you are better than them and you are smarter than them," he said.

Dave says he liked picking up street prostitutes because it was more exciting — and cheaper — than going to brothels, massage parlours or using an escort service. He said he could buy sex for as little as $40.

After a few months, he said, he was hooked.

"[I] probably averaged out to once a month ... sometimes more," Dave said. "Depends on what was in my head."

Dave said sometimes he was motivated by the urge to escape inner demons.

While each episode would satisfy his urge for excitement, it was quickly followed by a low period.

Excitement followed by shame

"You're running on that high [and] after that ... you're ashamed," he said. "You don't want to look at yourself in the mirror. You see somebody that you can't believe what you've just done. You keep saying, 'I'll never do it again', but you know that's not [going to happen]."

It wasn't long before Dave was arrested. He was about 18 years old.

"I went to court that day a young kid scared out of his wits," he said. "I was nicely dressed up. I stood up in front of the judge [and] said ... I'd never do it again."

He said the judge went easy on him and he got off with no record.

"A slap on the wrist really," he says now. "[I was let go] not having to do anything. In hindsight, it was probably the worst thing that happened."

Dave says with no penalty, no deterrent and no counselling, there was nothing to stop him from returning to his habit.

He continued buying sex for another six years until he was arrested a second time. In that case, he was snagged as part of an undercover police operation.

Puts in time at John School

This time, Dave was sent to John School, a diversion program where first-time offenders can avoid a criminal record if they successfully complete the course.

It's a one day program where johns hear from police, health workers, former prostitutes — even former johns — in an effort to educate them and perhaps scare them into making better choices.

But Dave says he simply checked his watch and said what he thought he was expected to say. After graduating, he once again resumed the prowl.

His habit continued even after he was married. He said he would tell his wife he was going out for "beers with the boys" after a softball game.

Dave says he was aware of safe sex practices and would usually use a condom, but admits he had unprotected sex with prostitutes.

His third arrest, this one as married man, led to a major crisis.

"Panic," Dave said. "What do you do? What's the next step? How do I get out of this one? [I was] still trying to come up with lies to cover up."

They made a point of making an example of me.- Dave's second go at John School was more intense

Dave was allowed to return to John School for a second try at the course. He was given the opportunity, which usually isn't open to repeat offenders, because his wife went with him to see the John School facilitator and counsellor.

In his second go at the school, Dave said the experience was more intense.

"They were really rough on me," he said. "They made a point of making an example of me. And to make sure that I was being truthful and honest."

This time, following the course, there was mandatory follow-up counselling.

"I had to commit to going to counselling," he said. He did and says he has stopped cruising for prostitutes. In time, however, his marriage ended in divorce.

Remarried and speaking at John School courses

Dave has remarried and says his wife knows all about his past.

He is currently a regular speaker at John School, where he tells his cautionary story.

As for how authorities should deal with the issue, Dave says policing is only the beginning.

He believes johns should be arrested but says more programs, such as John Schools with follow-up counselling are needed for people, like him, who are more than casual users of prostitutes.

"After they leave that John School, there is absolutely nothing," Dave said. "We don't' know what they're doing."

In Regina, where Dave lives, police say they are not targeting prostitutes or johns because of the current legal confusion surrounding Canada's prostitution laws.

Instead, officers are focusing investigations on human trafficking.

In Saskatoon, by contrast, police say they have arrested eight johns and two prostitutes in 2014.


With files from CBC's Bonnie Allen


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