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Christine Louie

Criminology student Christine Louie (above) found that most Downtown Eastside and Strathcona residents support brothels in non-residential areas.

Residents favour legalized prostitution: survey

July 9, 2009

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An online survey of residents and business owners in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Strathcona shows that the majority of respondents—three-quarters of residents and 67 per cent of business owners—favour the decriminalization of adult prostitution in Canada.

The survey, conducted by Christine Louie, a Simon Fraser University honors criminology student, also found 77 per cent of residents support brothels in non-residential areas. Seventy-six per cent of respondents say the sale of sex should be legal and 72 per cent felt buying a sexual service from an adult should be legal.

The findings offer a rare glimpse of public opinion from neighborhoods most affected by street prostitution in the debate over Canada’s prostitution laws, which were deemed unacceptable by a House of Commons subcommittee in 2006 but remain unchanged.

Louie personally distributed more than 1,000 flyers throughout the communities encouraging participation in her project, Community Attitudes to Street Prostitution in the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona.

Her efforts drew 122 online responses, including 91 from residents and 27 from business owners (four didn’t indicate a group). Ages ranged from 19-78 years and 52 per cent were male, 43 per cent female and two per cent trans-gender.

The survey focused on attitudes toward current prostitution laws, reform of prostitution laws, the affect of laws on the safety of street sex workers, proposed ways to reduce street prostitution in residential areas and respondents’ experience with street prostitution.

Louie was motivated by the stories of women killed by Robert Pickton and by reports on the level of violence street prostitutes continue to face in various regions of the country. That includes rural areas surrounding Edmonton, where police are also investigating a string of prostitute killings.

She hopes to expand her project as a graduate student at the University of Calgary and plans to return and continue research in Vancouver.

"Research on community attitudes to prostitution on a national scale would help to develop an understanding of what Canadian citizens more generally think the government should do to reform prostitution law," Louie concludes. "That’s a logical beginning."

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