London

Should St. Thomas police name men charged with buying sexual services?

The St. Thomas police chief is looking at his options and trying to figure out if the force should start to publicly name people charged with trying to purchase sexual services.

Almost 4,000 people voted on a Facebook poll on the topic this past weekend

London police name johns charged with trying to buy sex. The police chief in nearby St. Thomas is reviewing whether or not his officers should follow suit. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The St. Thomas Police Service has taken to Facebook to ask people about a controversial topic; identifying so-called johns.

It is gathering opinions about whether or not to publicly name the people, mostly men, charged with trying to purchase sexual services in the city. 

"We're looking for input from our community. The St. Thomas Police Service always puts the needs of our community first," said Const. Tanya Calvert. 

London's police recently changed its policy to start identifying alleged johns. The change was greeted with applause by some women's groups, but drew the ire of others.

"We are doing our own research for our own city," said Calvert. "We're looking at what other cities are doing, what our community partners think should be done, what our advocacy groups say, what people with lived experience say. Lived experience is huge." 

'Need to do what's best for the community'

Over the weekend, St. Thomas police posted a poll on its Facebook page, asking if the force should "publicly release the names of all people who are arrested for trying to purchase sex." 

There were 3,900 votes and more than 440 comments. In the end, 59 per cent of people voted "No." 

Comments came from all over the country, with sex worker advocacy groups and sex workers themselves weighing in.

The results will be part of St. Thmoas Police Chief Chris Herridge's deliberations. 

"The decision the police chief makes will not be based solely on this poll, but we wanted to see what people had to say. We need to do what's best for our community," Calvert said. 

 It doesn't eliminate it, and it makes it less safe.- Stacey Hannem, Wilfred Laurier University 

Stacey Hannem studies sex workers and the impact laws and regulations have on their safety and well-being. She's the head of the department of criminology at Wilfred Laurier University's Brantford campus. 

"The Canadian laws are modelled on the Swedish laws, which criminalizes the clients and not the sex workers," said Hannem. "(It) is based on the idea that when you criminalize the clients you decrease the demand and get rid of prostitution.  

"In fact, the data from Sweden shows it does not get rid of prostitution, it displaces it a little bit off the street to indoors, but it doesn't eliminate it, and it makes it less safe because one of the ways sex workers make their work more safe is to screen their clients."

Publicly naming johns pushes sex work further underground, Hannem said. 

Hannem and her research partner have compiled the Facebook comments from the St. Thomas police poll and will analyze them for a future research paper.

London Police Chief John Pare discusses the new rules about naming those charged with buying sex. 6:57
 

Some sex workers and some of their advocates in London were angry when Police Chief John Pare announced the force would start naming johns without first consulting those who work in the sex trade. 

Others argue johns should be named, just as police name those who are charged with drunk driving or other offences. 

Pare said he is not reviewing the policy, despite calls for him to do so. 

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