The following article appears on the CBC News website:
Montreal residents fight prostitution online
Last Updated: Tuesday, December 8, 2009 | 1:30 PM ET
Residents in Montreal's Hochelaga-Maisonneuve district have launched an online group to fight street prostitution.
Residents are taking pictures of sex workers in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and posting them on Facebook.Residents are taking pictures of sex workers in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and posting them on Facebook. (Facebook)
As of Tuesday, some 377 people, mostly residents in the southeast borough, had joined a group on the social networking site Facebook, where people discuss drug use and public sex they've witnessed in the area.
The Facebook group, called "Prostitution en plein jour" also features photos of prostitutes who work in the neighbourhood south of the Olympic Stadium.
Sex-trade workers have walked the streets in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve for years, says resident Frédéric Leroux, but the situation has worsened in recent months. "On the same corner, I saw a kid, waiting for a school bus, and I saw a prostitute, waiting for a client," said Leroux, who has three children.
Police are doing little to solve the problem, and that's why fed-up residents turned to the internet to take action, Leroux contends.
He said he doesn't blame the prostitutes, but rather clients, or johns, who drive the demand.
Advocates who work with prostitutes say the Facebook page is the wrong approach to solving an age-old problem.
"I think it's insane," said Émilie Laliberté, a former sex-trade worker who now does outreach for STELLA, a Montreal organization that supports people who sell sex on the streets. "It's totally [disrespectful.]"
Sex-trade workers are driven to the streets because current laws don't allow them to work anywhere else, and they "don't have the right of protection and security as any other citizen," Laliberté said.
"The fact that our work is being criminalized puts us at risk to suffer violence any time, anywhere."
Decriminalizing prostitution would allow sex trade workers to practise their trade in clean, safe areas behind closed doors, Laliberté added.
She suggested residents talk to local prostitutes about their concerns.
"If you bring your kid to the school, and the sex worker is there during the morning, you can just ask her maybe she can go to a corner more far away," she suggested. "The key is communication. It's not by bashing sex workers online that they're gonna get what they want."