Over the last two years, one resident of the Livingstone Street area of St. John’s says, his neighbourhood has become a regular pickup area for prostitutes, and he would like authorities to deal with the issue, but is not convinced much will get done.
“The situation we find ourselves in is that no one is doing anything for us at all,” said the man, who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution. “We’re being regularly intimidated. We’re being harassed. We have these johns driving around our houses. The city won’t do anything for us. The (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) won’t do anything for us. What are we left with?”
Any day of the week, he can spot prostitutes in the area, he said.
He said there were five working the streets Sunday evening, with pimps typically located nearby. He said male drivers circle the area in their vehicles until they find the girl they want.
In his view, more would get done to deal with the matter if he lived in a wealthier residential neighbourhood in St. John’s.
“How’s that fair? I pay my taxes just as well as anyone else in the city.”
He understands it is not illegal for a person to merely stand on the side of the road and that police are likely unable to make arrests unless they witness the exchange of money in tandem with an intimate act.
“It’s not illegal for someone to stand on the sidewalk,” he said. “They can stand there as long as they want … in the same way that it’s alright for you or I or someone who is waiting for the bus. But the problem is when they’re sitting on your doorstep or their pimp is sitting across from your house, or when your girlfriend doesn’t want to come to your house because she’s been solicited.”
If the City of St. John’s introduced a no-loitering or no-soliciting bylaw, he said, that could be used in relation to both prostitutes and johns, but he has been told the city is not interested in creating such a bylaw.
Coun. Sheilagh O’Leary, who set up a meeting in March to talk about crime in the nearby Tessier Place area involving the city, local residents and police, said those measures would not make a difference, noting it can be hard to define activities as loitering. She said such bylaws would not be enforceable.
Prostitution was among the subjects brought up at that meeting in March, as was the case during a meeting she attended the following month at which residents of Tessier Place formed a neighbourhood committee. Tessier Place is located directly behind Livingstone Street.
While O’Leary has heard of an improved situation of late in relation to the presence of prostitutes in the Livingstone Street area, she cautioned that moving them out of the area does not happen just like that, adding that prostitutes tend to move around the city every few years.
At one point prostitutes in the downtown area mostly congregated in the east end and later moved to an area near the Anglican Church, according to O’Leary.
She said there is a need to look at the social issues facing prostitutes working in the area. O’Leary said many are dealing with substance abuse issues. Getting away from the profession is not easy, she added, given the presence of a pimp in most situations.
The local resident wonders what further measures should be taken beyond letting authorities deal with the situation. He’s even had thoughts about attempting to publicly identify some of the clients he has spotted in the area.
“Kind of the theory that if you remove the person who is funding the prostitutes, then you remove the prostitutes to a degree,” he said, noting the licence plates of vehicles picking up prostitutes are visible.
“What people are telling me is I have to become a criminal to defeat this. I have to take justice into my own hands. And that’s not fair and that’s not right. It puts me in the situation of compromising my own values, as well as compromising my own possible safety and the safety of my neighbours and the safety of my home.”
If legalization of prostitution were to become a reality — an Ontario Court of Appeal has struck down aspects of the Criminal Code relating to brothels — he wonders whether that might eliminate street efforts to sell sex.
“Maybe I have to change my perspective on it,” he said. “You can’t get rid of this problem. I understand it’s the ‘oldest profession in the world.’ If you can’t get rid of it, maybe you should embrace it.”
In a statement emailed to The Telegram, an RNC spokeswoman said prostitution “is a complex social issue,” making specific reference to addictions, mental health, poverty and housing.
“It transcends many facets of government services,” she said.
The RNC has collaborated on the matter with the Community Youth Network and the Provincial Advisory Council for the Status of Women. It has also worked with the City of
St. John’s and the Neighborhood Watch co-ordinator to create a neighbourhood watch for the Livingstone Street area.