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Downtown neighbourhoods support decriminalized prostitution: study

VANCOUVER - A significant majority of people living and working in Vancouver’s Strathcona and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods favour the decriminalization of prostitution, according to a new survey from Simon Fraser University.

“It’s a pretty important message that is being sent out because people that cared enough to make a comment about prostitution law clearly think that some drastic change needs to occur,” said SFU criminology professor John Lowman, who supervised the study.

The study, called Community Attitudes to Street Prostitution in the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona, found three quarters of residents and 67 per cent of business owners who responded support decriminalization.

It was based on 122 online responses after 1000 flyers were distributed seeking participation.

The survey asked respondents a variety of questions about opinions on Canada’s current prostitution laws, the effects of the laws on sex workers’ safety and proposed ways to reduce street prostitution in residential areas.

Of the respondents, 76 per cent said the sale of sex should be legal and 89 per cent supported street sex workers’ rights to practice safe work measures, such as negotiating with a customer before getting into a car.

“Residents support policies aimed at decreasing the hazards sex workers face,” said study author and SFU criminology student Christine Louie.

The study also found 77 per cent of residents supported brothels in non-residential areas, a proposal Lowman said would require significant safeguards.

“What the people in this survey are saying is that they really don’t want it in residential areas,” he said. “But if we keep it in commercial areas, what we need is safe places for women to work and we need more programs to help people in the survival sex trade have other opportunities to get out of prostitution.”

The study provides statistics from a small area directly affected by prostitution, Lowman said, which he argued is vital to the political debate.

“I’ve argued that the government should be doing this kind of research for years,” he said.

“Our politicians tend to be like a deer frozen in headlights when it comes to prostitution.”

Christine McLaren reports for The Tyee.

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