Read the fourth installment of our #sexworkstories series. As do all our stories, Toni’s challenges the myths and misconceptions about sex work. Her feelings about the work she does are complicated, as she says, “Before I got into the industry, I did other kinds of straight work, including managing some businesses. But sex work lets you be self-employed, pick your own hours, make more money for fewer hours worked. It does strip a bit from your soul, but what doesn’t these days? It’s not a “Pretty Woman” situation.”
I was born and raised in Victoria, and have worked in the sex industry since 1999. I’m 48 now, but started the work after my divorce, when it was too hard to manage the household and two kids on my own. I worked at an agency in Vancouver and then in Victoria, but when the Victoria agency got shut down by police years ago, I started working outdoors. But these days I’m mostly indoors again.
Work has changed a lot in the last three years. I work off my phone mostly for my regulars, and prefer not to go out at night if I don’t have to, although I still go out if I need a little entertainment or if the phone’s not ringing. I spent 12 weeks in hospital after getting sucker-punched by a jealous outdoor worker five years ago, which broke my jaw, so I haven’t wanted to work outdoors much since then.
Most people don’t realize the dangers out there. You’d think there’d be more facilities for girls to work indoors. Agencies can be good, but they take a serious cut of what you earn – sometimes more than 50 per cent. I work out of my apartment every now and then with a few of my regulars, but mostly I try not to. This is my home, my safe zone.
Before I got into the industry, I did other kinds of straight work, including managing some businesses. But sex work lets you be self-employed, pick your own hours, make more money for fewer hours worked. It does strip a bit from your soul, but what doesn’t these days? It’s not a “Pretty Woman” situation.
Things have changed since the early days when I started. There’s a lot less business out there on the street, and a lot of the clients are much more uneasy about picking you up, because if they get pulled over more than once, they tell me that’s when police charge them. I didn’t really see any change when the new laws were introduced in 2014 and clients were criminalized, but on the street it’s always been mostly “out of sight, out of mind.” People are pretty lenient about the stroll as long as they don’t have to see it.
I wish our relation with police was more like having a liaison who we can talk to comfortably. As it is, you never know what you’re going to get with the police – some are OK, others are quite rude and say horrible stuff to us.
They aren’t monitoring us too much here in Victoria, but they make their presence known, and there have been nights where we’ve seen a police car on the street at least every 15 minutes. When they do that, it definitely deters people from stopping. Some of the clients are even starting to walk up to book the date now, to avoid risking getting pulled over.
I know the police think they’re helping us. But they’re not. They’re infringing on our work.
The clients are mostly normal people. There are a few bad dates who give everyone a bad name, though, and they have an impact. I’ve got a former roommate who has never been the same after being raped, beaten and left for dead in a park a few years ago. Lately, there has been a lot of new girls out there, and more bad dates. I think there are a lot of people who never report their bad dates, and I definitely know that these girls would go to Peers Victoria Resource Society to report them before they’d go to the police.
Usually I just hop into the car with a client and we go around the block, and if I don’t like the vibe, I get out. It would be better to be able to assess things before I got in the car, but you can’t do that with the laws the way they are, because the clients don’t want to get pulled over. I’ve been pulled over by the police in vehicles where they tell me to leave, and then keep the guy there.
I connected to Peers first through outreach. They’re like the surrogate mother for us girls. Most of us don’t have family. Five years ago, I was so unhealthy, addicted, no housing, struggling along with a broken jaw on the street. I’d been out there for two weeks with the broken jaw when Peers just grabbed onto me. They put me in a hotel, got me something to eat, helped me find this apartment where I’ve been living for three years now. Peers really got the ball rolling for me.
If it was up to me to help people working outdoors in the industry, I would have a big house where workers could eat and sleep and live but couldn’t bring clients, and a rooming house kind of place where you could bring clients. I guess that’s almost like an escort agency, but this would be more like an agency or a non-profit. For sure I support decriminalization. In a lot of ways that’s already happened anyway, but not in our relations on stroll with the police.
I would love to see a plain-clothes police officer working right out of Peers, coming out on the van with outreach every night – someone who could take a bad-date report right then and there, and hear about them right after they’ve happened. If there was someone in plain clothes who you could actually talk to without fear and who wasn’t scaring away the clients, who knows, it just might bring a lot of the bad dates to a halt.
But it would have to be the kind of officer who knew when to turn a blind eye, because there are a lot of complicated reasons why people don’t report their bad dates to police right now. They might have drug addictions, or warrants out for their arrests, or are worried they could lose their kids if someone knew the work they did. There would have to be a lot of trust with whoever this police officer is.