Drug-related prostitution: one issue, several solutions

Since the 1980s, prostitution has become a major problem in Montreal, especially in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. It is estimated that about one hundred women work the streets in the neighbourhood, mainly in the area of Sainte-Catherine East. In this area, prostitution often goes hand in hand with poverty and addiction and has serious consequences for the community. Not only does it endanger the women involved, but it is also a source of irritants for residents of the area.

What steps can be taken to help women involved in prostitution who want to leave the trade? How can we reduce the irritants caused by street prostitution? Can prostitution and neighbourhood life co-exist by ensuring residents’ safety and peace of mind? Faced with such complex issues, the entire community is responsible with trying to address this issue by taking concrete action.

Prostitution and addiction: two sides of the same reality

In Hochelaga, street prostitution is closely tied to the sale and consumption of drugs. This is referred to as drug-related prostitution. Approximately 90% of women engaged in prostitution in the area are grappling with addiction problems and finance their habit by selling their bodies. For these women, the drug dealer and the pimp are often the same person, and they receive their clients and buy and use the drugs in the same place. Helping these women leave prostitution is therefore twice as difficult as helping them kick their addictions.

Although this is the most common type of prostitution, there is another phenomenon that is growing rapidly: “occasional” or “month-end” prostitution. This is linked to the economic insecurity of some women, who use prostitution to make ends meet at the end of the month when they fall short of money. Whether caused by addiction or lack of income, prostitution in Hochelaga is in many cases a sign of the vulnerability and social isolation of the women involved.

Although prostitution is not illegal in Canada, related activities such as solicitation, procuring, bawdy-houses, and transporting someone to a bawdy-house make it an illegal activity. It is not the sexual act between consenting adults in exchange for payment that is illegal, but the activities surrounding prostitution. In 2014, the Conservatives introduced Bill C-36, which target clients. However, this legislation continues to criminalize people engaged in prostitution and puts them in greater danger.

Diverse resources in Hochelaga

There are many resources available to people living in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve to help them deal with the many problems created by prostitution. Organizations such as Dopamine and L’Anonyme, which operate in the neighbourhood, work with people who use psychoactive drugs and help support and assist them on a daily basis. Other organizations such as Stella and the Coalition des Luttes contre l’Exploitation Sexuelle (CLES) focus on improving the living conditions of women engaged in prostitution, and also, in the case of CLES, help them leave prostitution.

CAP Saint-Barnabé, an organization vital to community life in the neighbourhood, provides these women with a place known as the Répit where they can rest, wash, and eat during the day. We are also working with this organization so that Refuge de nuit can re-open next winter and provide 24-hour service to women in need.

Other groups focus their efforts on the community life of residents, businesses and women engaged in prostitution, who are also residents of Hochelaga. That is the case for “HM pour tous” a pilot project that will begin in the next few months and is based on Vancouver’s Living in Community initiative that began in 2005. This community project addressed the thorny issue of protecting prostitutes and also ensuring that residents of the area and vulnerable people, like most women who are engaged in prostitution or who have addictions, can live together in greater harmony.

The opening of a supervised injection site (SIS) in the neighbourhood is a priority initiative in our action plan. Opening this site would not only address public health issues resulting from the use of injection drugs, but would also help drug addicts by giving them human and material resources vital to their safety. We must therefore continue to push for the introduction of this type of facility here in Hochelaga.

Although the phenomenon of drug-related prostitution is more widespread in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve than in other areas of Montreal, the means mobilized to address this problem are more developed and tailored to the scope of the problem. The neighbourhood is at an advantage because it reacted early to residents’ concerns and it put in place resources to support, assist, develop and ensure the social reintegration of marginalized people. Hochelaga-Maisonneuve is the Quebec neighbourhood with the most community resources.

Prostitution is a complex issue with no simple answer. The many different solutions complement one another. It is through the efforts of stakeholders, elected officials, and the residents of the area that tangible action has been taken to improve everyone’s safety and quality of life.


Useful links:

// Cactus Montreal

// Chez Doris

// Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES)

// Dopamine

// L’Anonyme

// Narcotics Anonymous

// Spectre de rue

// Stella

// The Addictions Unit, Griffith Edward Centre