September 18, 1997 * Vol . 10, No. 2

Sterling winner challenges politicians on prostitution law

John Lowman, a Canadian authority on prostitution and SFU professor of criminology, has earned the university's 1997 Sterling Prize for controversy.

"I challenge politicians at every level of government in the country to respond to research and arguments I will present at the award ceremony," he says.

"Most politicians continue to point a moral finger, even though prostitution is legal in Canada," Lowman explains. "At the same time, behind their backs, local governments are taking money from the very trade they're condemning. The extent of the trade can be seen in ads for escort services and massage parlors in the Yellow Pages across Canada.

"As politicians refuse to consider where and under what circumstances customers should be met, more prostitutes are being murdered, children are being sexually procured and street prostitution is flourishing, including in neighborhoods," he adds.

Lowman began his research in 1977 during Vancouver's infamous and costly Penthouse cabaret trial, which resulted in an explosion of street prostitution and 20 years of futile efforts which have only moved prostitutes to new, often more dangerous, locations.

In his lecture at the ceremony (Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 7:30 p.m., Harbour Centre campus) Lowman will present a prostitution census showing the communication law introduced in 1985 has had very little impact on levels of street prostitution in Vancouver. He will also present a study of violence against prostitutes which reveals that murders increased dramatically in B.C. after the law's enactment.

Lowman began teaching criminology at SFU in 1981. During his career he has interviewed sex trade workers, pimps, customers, police, service providers, and lawyers and read files of murdered women who have been knifed 50 to 60 times -- the phenomenon of "overkill" in police jargon.

"To reduce harm to all concerned, we urgently need to cut the hypocrisy and work out what we want prostitution law and social policy to accomplish," he says.

Lowman is calling on Canadians to commit to four goals in a decriminalization process: prevent sexual procurement of children and youth; protect prostitutes from pimp coercion and customer violence; encourage prostitute self-employment, cooperatives, or non-profit management; and protect bystanders from nuisance.

The Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in Support of Controversy was established in 1993. Ordinarily given to someone in the SFU community, it honors and encourages work in any field that provokes controversy or contributes to its understanding.

"It should present new ways of looking at the world, be daring and creative, decidedly unconventional, distinctly untraditional, and, in short, challenge complacency," explains Ted Sterling, who started SFU's computer science program.

Previous winners are: Parzival Copes, for early predictions of major problems in Newfoundland's fishery, and Russel Ogden, for research on AIDS and euthanasia and defending his right to refuse to name sources in B.C. Coroner's Court.

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