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Chris Atchison

Study paints compassionate picture of johns

January 21, 2010

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Johns’ Voice, an unprecedented study of how men who buy sex relate to prostitutes, concludes that most customers, or johns, wouldn’t harm a hair on their clandestine partners’ heads.

Unlike notorious serial killers such as Robert Pickton, most johns pursue complex relationships with prostitutes that are as much about emotional fulfillment as they are about sex.

The study by SFU sociology instructor Chris Atchison included the largest-ever volunteer sampling of sex buyers. More than 1,000 responded to a self-administered on-line survey that asked 210 questions.

"My research shows that only a small percentage of respondents pose a real problem in terms of violence and disease transmission to prostitutes," says Atchison, who conducted the survey between June 2008 and April 2009.

"My initial findings show that johns shouldn’t be painted as uniformly good or evil in efforts to control prostitution," he emphasizes. "We only need to target a subset of this population."

Atchison isolated and studied 861 Canadian responses and spent 65 hours interviewing an additional 24 Canadian sex buyers. SFU sociology grad Katarina Kolar helped him gather the data.

His analysis revealed that 93 per cent of the respondents said they avoid conflict with prostitutes. They choose "flight over fight" even though 43 per cent of them said they have paid for services they didn’t receive. Twenty per cent have been robbed and five per cent claimed a sex worker had physically attacked them.

Seventy-nine per cent of the men said they value prostitutes’ safety and would like to see prostitution decriminalized or legalized and regulated so that it offers pension, health and employment benefits.

Nineteen per cent said they sought emotional intimacy, not just sex, in their pursuit of prostitutes and that their trysts evolved into long-term relationships that evoked compassion for their sex-selling partners.

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