The hidden world of hookers: (Part 1 & 2)

Crackheads. Pimps' pawns. Streetwalkers. That's how most people see prostitutes. But for most hookers in Canada, nothing could be further from the truth.

Dan Gardner
The Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, June 08, 2002

'There was something about his eyes that I felt extremely uncomfortable with," Jamie Lee Hamilton recalls of a customer who was looking for sex in Vancouver's downtown east side. "He wanted me to get in the car right away, he didn't really want to communicate while I was standing there."

All street prostitutes insist they have a kind of sixth sense about johns, an ability to screen for predators. That night, Ms. Hamilton's intuition blared like a siren. Still, she refused to listen. You tell yourself "he's probably not going to harm you. Every working girl says that," she says.

The Vancouver Sun

(Hookers on a street corner)

She opened the car door to get in. Then she noticed the inside passenger door handle was missing. She bolted.

Today, Ms. Hamilton, an advocate for prostitutes' rights, says she has no doubt her intuition was right. "He was planning something," she says.

The idea of predators hunting prostitutes is something with which Canadians have recently become all too familiar. The number of women who have disappeared from Vancouver's downtown east side during the last 20 years stands at 54. Most are drug addicts and prostitutes. So far, the massive police investigation, one of the biggest in Canadian history, has led to seven murder charges against Robert "Willie" Pickton, owner of a Port Coquitlam pig farm.

The story seems to confirm in a spectacular way what most people have always believed about prostitution -- that it is dangerous work done by women driven onto the streets by drugs or predatory pimps.

Certainly statistics on missing or murdered prostitutes seem to bear this out. The list of 54 women missing in Vancouver does not include murdered Vancouver prostitutes whose bodies have been found. And it does not include the grim toll from across the country.

According to Statistics Canada, 72 prostitutes were murdered nationwide from 1991 to 2000 -- fewer than a third of them in British Columbia. That number seriously understates the real death toll because it only includes known murders in which the police verified the victim was a prostitute killed while working. But even that understated murder rate makes prostitution by far the most lethal form of work.

Washington Post

A hooker looks for business on a Vancouver street corner: Sensational stories about drug-addicted streetwalkers doesn't help us understand the problem or develop rational reforms, says Jamie Lee Hamilton, a Vancouver activist for prostitutes' rights.

This may seem to confirm the stereotype of prostitution as a brutal struggle for survival. But beneath the numbers lies a far more complex reality.

Beyond question, street prostitution is often plagued by assault, robbery, rape and murder. But most prostitution occurs off the streets -- in massage parlours, escort agencies, strip clubs, hotels and private homes. And most of that prostitution bears little resemblance to the violent world where streetwalkers follow their hunches about which car door is safe to open.

"What you've got is an enormous sex industry," says John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and one of Canada's leading researchers on prostitution. There are "many different types, many different experiences, and the stereotypes really fall short."

Ms. Hamilton feels the media don't portray the complex truth, preferring instead to focus on the desperate, drug-addicted street hookers who fit the stereotype. Sometimes prostitutes are portrayed as victims, sometimes as blights on residential neighbourhoods. Either way, she says, "the media are sensationalizing ... prostitution. The fact of the matter is prostitution has many forms."

As a woman who has worked on the streets and advocated prostitutes' rights for 30 years, Ms. Hamilton is hardly wearing rose-coloured glasses.

She knows the ugliness of street life better than most. She understood the awful truth about the downtown east side, or Skid Row as they used to call it in Vancouver, long before the politicians and media.

In 1996, she says, "we took 67 pairs of women's shoes and dropped them on the steps of city hall. Each pair represented, up until that point, missing women and women who had been murdered in the sex trade. It was a symbolic gesture of ... being treated as society's throwaways." At the time, she says, no serious attention was paid to the missing women. "When we called for the reward (to be put up by the city,) the mayor said, 'We will not fund a location service.' The police would say, 'We're not a baby-sitting service.' They actually said that to the mother of one of the missing women who still hasn't been found. The powers that be ... were turning a blind eye."

The Vancouver Sun

This prostitute, a member of a group called Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver, objects to being called a victim. However, a University of Victoria study shows that most prostitutes come from homes 'marked by a difficult childhood characterized by frequent abuse."

Even the media -- now swarming around Robert Pickton's pig farm -- hardly took notice. "They would do little stories," she says, but they were "always on the nuisance factor."

Sensational stories about drug-addicted streetwalkers won't help us truly understand the problem or find rational reforms, Ms. Hamilton insists. First we have to see the complex reality of prostitution. Only then is it possible to see why the prostitutes working the streets of Vancouver's downtown east side, and of other cities across Canada, are such easy prey.

A short walk west of the dingy diners and flophouses of Vancouver's downtown east side, the streets suddenly fill with chic restaurants and condos. This is "gentrification" at work. For years, money has been steadily gnawing at the edges of Skid Row, turning the shabby and depressing into the fabulous and desirable, the sort of urban space where a Lexus can be parked unmolested.

When gentrification arrives, one of the first eyesores swept away are the hollow-eyed women who totter unsteadily on the street corners hoping to score a few dollars for drugs. But that doesn't mean prostitution disappears. Quite the opposite. In the hip neighbourhoods next to the downtown east side, prostitution flourishes.

The Calgary Herald

There is a 'vast' prostitution business in escort service, says John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University and one of Canada's leading researchers on prostitution. 'You have all sorts of women working out of their home using advertising.'

The most visible form occurs on the "high track," a commercial block where upscale streetwalkers promenade, looking to hook up with businessmen and tourists. These women are not the frail, sad creatures working Skid Row. There are no glassy eyes to be seen, no skin pale as a corpse's. These women may be breaking the same laws as their colleagues in the downtown east side, but they clearly live in a different reality.

Money is the most obvious dividing line. High-track sex workers can make hundreds of dollars for a date, while the Skid Row women may charge a tenth as much.

Most high-track hookers have pimps. Prostitution is often territorial and if a woman wants to work valuable real estate, "you better have some weight behind you, some bounce, some jump," says Det.-Const. Raymond Payette, an officer with the Vancouver police's vice unit. Women who freelance in that kind of space will be threatened by a pimp or his "main girl," the pimp's top-ranking woman and chief enforcer.

But researchers caution that, contrary to popular belief, only a minority of all prostitutes work for pimps. "The pimping stereotype is highly exaggerated," argues Frances Shaver, a sociologist at Concordia University. In surveys of street prostitution in Montreal, Toronto and San Francisco, she found that most women -- as many as three-quarters or more -- did not have a pimp. "And another field study by the (federal) Justice Department found the same thing."

Pimps may be common among the hookers working the upscale neighbourhoods near Vancouver's downtown east side, but along Skid Row they are rare. Other demons drive the prostitutes here.

"For most of them the pimp now is drug addiction. They're so drug-ravaged that they will do anything for drugs," Det.-Const. Payette says. The criminalization of drugs makes them extremely expensive, forcing addicts to pay hundreds of dollars every day just to keep the torment of withdrawal -- dope sickness -- at bay. "As a woman with limited skills, limited education, as a heroin addict, her one skill that she can bank on making enough money is prostitution." The most desperate addicts on Skid Row, he says, "will turn dates for $10."

Cocaine and heroin are rare on the high track. Most pimps hate hard drugs and force their women to stay away from anything stronger than alcohol or marijuana. Money, not compassion, is their motivation. If a woman is visibly addicted -- track marks, ashen skin and sunken eyes -- "it may drive the price down," Det.-Const. Payette says.

Even worse for the pimp, addiction means a loss of control over the woman. "As a general rule, you don't want the addiction to become the No. 1 thing in that girl's life. You want yourself, as the pimp, to be the No. 1 thing. If she becomes addicted, you're playing a big second fiddle there."

But the sharpest line dividing the high track and the downtown east side was discovered by Simon Fraser's John Lowman when he analyzed data on murder and assaults between 1985 and 1993: The bloodshed that is so common in the downtown east side is rare on the high track. While almost half the known sexual assaults on prostitutes throughout Vancouver happened on Skid Row, only seven per cent had been committed against women working the high track; the balance happened on other strolls considered higher class than the downtown east side, though not equal to the high track. And while a majority of murdered prostitutes worked the downtown east side, not one victim had been picked up on the high track.

The hierarchy of hooker strolls appears in every major Canadian city. "In Ottawa, we've got four strolls where the girls hang out," says Staff-Sgt. Eric Martinat of the Ottawa police. The Byward Market is Ottawa's high track. "Those are the higher-end girls that ply their trade. In the outer areas, like Hintonburg, Gladstone and Vanier, they're, I guess you call them low-track."


The public tends to see prostitution as something that mainly happens on the streets. The reality is just the opposite. "Street prostitution is no more than 20 per cent of the sex trade in Canada right now," according to John Lowman. In the off-street sector, "you've got this huge trade in massage parlours, body-rub parlours. You've got a vast business in escort services. You have all sorts of women working out of their home using advertising."

Police say the gap between the two sex industries is growing. In Edmonton, street prostitution has "really gone down in the last 10 years," says Staff-Sgt. Aurel Leblanc of the municipal police vice unit. "Ten years ago, we had at least 1,000 girls working the streets here. Today, we're down to probably 250, including even girls working just part-time."

Det. Sgt. Paul Gillespie of the Toronto police sex crimes unit confirms that on-street prostitution has also declined in Canada's largest city. "I just think it's just a matter of technology," he says, pointing to the role of the Internet. "You'll see just monstrous amounts of Web sites. And pagers. Pimps and people who control women, they don't have to have them standing on the street corner, they just have to know where to find them if somebody requires their services."

Simon Fraser's Mr. Lowman feels another factor pushing prostitution off the streets is the decision of police to enforce the law against the street trade while turning a blind eye to more discrete sexual commerce: In 2000, roughly 93 per cent of all prostitution-related incidents reported by police involved street activity. With the police focused on streetwalking, the media naturally tend to see prostitution through that narrow lens -- hence the stereotype.

For those who want to find it, it doesn't take much effort to locate the off-street sex trade in any major city. In Vancouver, hotels hand tourists city maps replete with ads for "exotic massage" and other services. You can also turn to the city newspapers, or look under "escorts" in the Yellow Pages.

Even a casual walk downtown will do. Steps away from some of Vancouver's finer hotels and dining -- and close to the high track -- a massage parlour's entrance is graced with a large mural of writhing, half-naked women, leaving little doubt about the services on offer. Like the chic restaurants nearby, the parlour has a municipal licence.

A few streets further on, there are strip clubs. In Canada, strip clubs play a variable role in the sex industry. In many, management forbids all prostitution. In others, dancers are free to make arrangements with clients.

Sometimes management takes a cut: One such club can be found not far from Vancouver's most expensive shopping district. On a weekday night, at least a third of the patrons are women. Dressed in ordinary clothes, they could be office workers relaxing after work. In fact, this is their office.

One woman was willing to talk to a journalist, but not to be formally interviewed. Unlike the addicts on street corners, these women have much to lose and they zealously protect their privacy.

She says she hates the stereotype of prostitutes as desperate junkies. And she certainly doesn't look the part. She wears a cotton dress that's plain, even a little frumpy. She doesn't wear garish makeup, shiny boots, or any of the other visible cues street hookers use. Standing in the elevator of a top hotel, she would look just like any other guest -- which is the point.

She is in her late 20s, owns a house in a nice part of town and has a little boy. She likes to travel and, with the help of friends who work in the airlines, often goes on cheap junkets to exotic locales. Last year, she did her Christmas shopping in Beijing.

She tells friends and family she works in a bar. It's at least half-true. For a fee, the strip club allows her to pick up businessmen and tourists.

She calls the feminist claim that no woman would choose prostitution "asinine." It is a typical example of her refined, articulate speech. When asked whether she comes from a middle- or upper-middle class family, she smiles and says only, "You're not far off."

This woman and the skeletal addicts of Skid Row are clearly on opposite ends of the spectrum. But between them is a whole array of women who fit neither the Pretty Woman nor the "crack whore" stereotypes.

Comprehensive research is rare, particularly for off-street prostitutes, but a recent study by Cecilia Benoit and Alison Millar of the University of Victoria provided a detailed look at sex-trade workers by conducting lengthy interviews with 201 prostitutes -- some on-street, but most off -- in Victoria. The researchers found the women (and a small minority of men) do share some traits but for the most part they're a diverse lot. And while they suffer in some ways as a group, they are not the wretched of the Earth.

Almost all had been born in Canada. Only about seven per cent were visible minorities, the same as the population at large. The one group over-represented, at 15 per cent, was aboriginals -- a reality in almost all Canadian cities.

Almost four in 10 prostitutes had completed high school, as compared to 65 per cent of the general population. The average income for women was $20,000 a year, just below the B.C. average of $21,044. Most reported having a stable home, meaning they owned or rented an apartment or house or lived with family. The average age was 32.

About 60 per cent of women interviewed for the University of Victoria study said they had an intimate partner, 10 per cent lower than for women in general. And "contrary to popular belief," the report noted, "only a minority of respondents escape from their situations through the use of illicit substances."

It's difficult to generalize about work conditions in off-street prostitution. Venues range from massage parlours to escort agencies, strip clubs, bars, hotels, rented apartments and homes. For some, off-street prostitution includes abuse and exploitation every bit as brutal as that seen on-street. Pimps can be found off-street as well as on. And some off-street businesses are operated by organized crime rings, including biker gangs.

Off-street is also where foreign women smuggled into the country and forced into prostitution are likely to be found. The United Nations believes that around the world as many as 1.5 million women and children are sold into what amounts to sexual slavery. How many are brought to Canada is not known, but trafficked women do not seem to be a significant component of the total off-street sex industry.


Off-street hookers can also face exploitation less overt than that of a pimp when company owners use the legal grey zone of the industry to advantage. The University of Victoria study found that escort workers kept an average of $78 of every $100 earned; some escorts said the agencies took as much as half their earnings. Only around 50 per cent of these women said they had "a lot of control" over their working conditions, including the right to turn down a client. Escort and massage parlour workers also reported that employers would levy "fines" for breaking rules (such as being late for work) while at the same time routinely ignoring the conditions they had agreed to. The women typically do not have the usual legal recourse of employees since what they are doing is, after all, illegal.

But again, it's dangerous to generalize. The study noted that some escorts said they worked for agencies that were "run like co-operatives, where the work, costs and profits are equally shared."

Off-street prostitutes who work out of their homes seem best off. In the study, four out of five said they had "a lot of control" over working conditions. They also reported keeping "virtually all that they earned."

The one advantage virtually all off-street prostitution has over the on-street trade is relative safety. In massage parlours, brothels and hotels, clients know that when they enter or leave, they are seen by others and can be identified. And there are always staff or other clients nearby.

Even escort agencies, which dispatch women to the hotel rooms or homes of customers, offer a degree of protection. The phone numbers and addresses of customers, and sometimes their credit card numbers, are recorded. Sometimes agencies have drivers chauffeur women to and from appointments. Agencies can also screen callers.

So too can independent prostitutes who arrange by phone to meet clients. "If a person's going to be rude on the phone, even moderately rude, if they say one thing that's not quite right, I'm probably not going to go," says Monica Valiquette, a "40-something" prostitute and activist in Edmonton. "I figure it's not going to get any better than this. If a guy's totally drunk, I'm not interested. I just don't need to put myself through that." If she agrees to a date,

Ms. Valiquette tells someone where she's going.

As modest as these measures may be, they mean the off-street sex customer never has absolute anonymity. Only in street prostitution, and then only in some circumstances, can men pick up women without being seen and take them where a cry for help can't be heard.

That fact helps explain the startling discrepancy in violence between on- and off-street prostitution. In 1994, Mr. Lowman analyzed 50 homicides of Vancouver sex workers and found 43 worked on the street. Five were exotic dancers whose work wasn't clearly linked to their deaths. Two were escorts, one of whom died of an accidental overdose given by a client.

National statistics don't distinguish between on-street and off-street prostitutes, but police across Canada confirm that the bloodshed associated with prostitution is almost entirely limited to the street trade. In Ottawa, "our homicides in the past have been in relation to the streetwalkers and not the off-track stuff," says Eric Martinat.

Similarly, in Edmonton, "90 per cent of (prostitution-related violence) is on the street. Almost all of it," says Staff-Sgt. Leblanc of the vice unit. In the last decade, 10 women in the sex trade have been murdered in Edmonton and the surrounding area. Nine were streetwalkers.

For Staff-Sgt. Leblanc, the conclusion is obvious. "The girls are safer (off-street), there's no doubt about it."


Just as most people assume all prostitutes live and work under similar conditions -- the stereotype of the pathetic, drug-addicted hooker -- most also believe women are forced into it, victims of brutal pimps or drug addiction.

In reality, women come to prostitution by diverse paths. Drugs and pimps sometimes play a role, but not always.

One commonality is age: Women rarely enter prostitution in mid-life. "The gals that come into the profession from something else are so rare I can count them on my fingers," says Ms. Valiquette. She recalls a woman in her 40s who turned to off-street prostitution when she lost her job as a secretary with the RCMP. Another had retired from the army and "because her husband and her were already swinging, they figured why not get paid for it. But it's very unusual."

Most research finds women become prostitutes at 15 or 16 (although the University of Victoria study found an average age of 18), suggesting most women become prostitutes after something goes very wrong. The problem can be pimps or drugs. But more often, it's family.

Fewer than 20 per cent of sex workers "reported living in one stable situation while growing up," the University of Victoria study found. Just one-fifth were living with both parents at age 15; one-tenth by age 18. More than half had been put in foster care or institutions at some point during childhood.

The majority of subjects "came from homes marked by a difficult childhood characterized by frequent abuse," the study states. "In fact, almost 90 per cent of respondents reported some kind of physical, emotional or sexual abuse."

Most left home early. "The average age at which respondents first began living without a legal guardian was 16 years," the study found, "with 11 per cent of respondents living on their own before they were 14 years old."

But this is where common factors give way to a diversity of experiences. Slightly more than one-third of those surveyed said they had turned to prostitution because "they were curious or enticed to the life, which often included its promise of quick, easy money." The second-most common answer, cited by 29 per cent, was simple economic necessity.

"It was more intrigue than anything. I was fascinated by it when I was 13," Ms. Valiquette says. "When I was 16, I ran away from home and my girlfriend and I decided we'd give it a shot." They got scared before they could go through with it, and got regular jobs instead. But three years later "we were making minimum wage and not getting anywhere," so they finally started working the street.

Ms. Valiquette's example prompted a roommate to join her on the stroll. "I never tried to talk her into it," she recalls.

Drugs do lead some women into prostitution, but not as many as the stereotype suggests: In the University of Victoria study, 18 per cent of respondents blamed addiction. Women who follow that path tend to have suffered horrible abuse in childhood and adolescence, with substance abuse and addiction coming later.

It's also true that pimps lure some women into the sex trade. In the study, 13 per cent of respondents said someone had forced them into prostitution. However, that percentage is likely lower than the reality, because, as the study notes, prostitutes currently under the control of a pimp would be unlikely to speak to the researchers.

Runaways are obviously at risk of falling into the hands of pimps. But Vancouver's Det.-Const. Payette of the Vancouver vice unit says they're not the only ones.

"People think (prostitutes) are always from abusive homes and from bad neighbourhoods. That's not always true. We deal also with nice kids from nice neighbourhoods," he says. "They make the big mistake of falling in love with the wrong guy or falling in with the wrong crowd and it's over."

In the popular image, pimps control women with violence. Some do: In the trade, they're called "gorilla pimps." But they're not typical. Other pimps even consider them weak. The preferred method of recruitment and control is psychological manipulation.

In one scheme, Det.-Const. Payette says, pimps have their "main girl" spend time in suburban malls. They'll meet teenage girls, strike up friendships and offer to take them to bars. "You go to the bar and you get in because the doorman knows exactly who she is. So you're in. So you do this two, or three or four more times. After the fourth time, you meet a guy. He never says anything about prostitution. He talks, (says), 'You're lovely, you're beautiful,' and yadda yadda. Probably have sex with him for the first time in your life." Flattery and gifts follow.

Then the new boyfriend tells her she owes him money for the gifts. And he tells her how she can earn it. If she refuses, the "main girl" might threaten to beat her. Or the pimp might tell her, says Det.-Const. Payette, " 'I'm going to phone your dad and tell him you had sex with me and that you had sex with my two friends that one night.' "

So she agrees to work the street, thinking the debt can soon be paid off. But the pimp won't let her pay it off. Or he'll find new sources of debt. "A lot of girls think, 'If I put my head down, I can get through this.' And it just gets worse and worse."

Pimps also manipulate women to keep them vulnerable and dependent. They'll move them to new cities. And they'll carefully cultivate the love their young victims still feel.

A pimp might, for example, order his "main girl" to beat the girl so he can intervene and "save" her. "What better situation is there than a female is going to beat you up and I step in as the protector?" says Det.-Const. Payette. "You know, they can manipulate chrome off a bumper."

These con games take time and effort, limiting the girls a pimp can control effectively. "The most I've ever seen one guy have direct control over was six," Det-.Const. Payette says. "That's a lot of work. I would say on average you see somewhere between two and four."

But even in the case of pimps, researchers say, realities vary.

There are female pimps, for example. And while pimps are usually older than the women they control, that's not always so.

Just who is a pimp is also much less clear than most people think. The criminal law doesn't use the word, so there is no definition. The main charge for pimping is simply living "on the avails of prostitution." Read literally, it includes husbands and boyfriends of prostitutes, even their children. To avoid that absurdity, courts have required that the relationship be "parasitic" for charges to stick.

And yet, says Simon Fraser's Mr. Lowman, these "pimps" and their workers sometimes form lasting relationships. "Some pimps marry the women, they have children with them, they grow old with them.

It's not just this monolithic entity."

That is all the more true of the men buying sex.

"Customers could be anybody," says Chris Atchison, a criminologist affiliated with the University of Toronto and Simon Fraser University. There is no "typical john," he says. "The only thing that all customers have in common is they're buying sex. That's about it."

That diversity is reflected in the reasons why men buy sex. "They're the same motivations that motivate any man to have sex," says Mr. Atchison, who has spent the past six years studying prostitutes' customers. "They're complex. They're diverse."

One reason is pretty basic. "A lot of these guys say, 'Why did I go? To get my rocks off.' That's the bottom line. It's quick, easy, non-committed sex."

A subtler influence is the social message that "you're only a man if you can have sex, and frequently," Mr. Atchison feels.

A few johns are looking for forms of sex they can't have otherwise. Some, for example, want sex with juveniles, but this is rare. A recent University of British Columbia survey of men in john school found just five per cent of the anonymous respondents said they had paid for sex with a person under 18 years of age. Overwhelmingly, johns expressed strong disapproval of sex with minors.

The hidden world of hookers: (Part 2)

Another motivation is the desire to hold power over another person. "Not all interactions between buyers and sellers are about exploitation of power in that way," says Mr. Atchison, "but many of them are."

Det.-Const. Payette says he once stopped a man who "drove a nice new Jaguar. Very nice man. Picking up a prostitute that was the most asexual human being I've ever met. She was (like) a concentration camp victim -- she looked exactly like the photos of the Jewish women at Auschwitz and Dachau."

This very wealthy man, says Det.-Const. Payette, "was bargaining with her. He wanted to pay $15 for sex without a condom but she wanted $20 and he was bargaining with her. I finally asked him, in sheer frustration, because he was really bothering me, 'How much are your socks worth?' He said, 'Around $78.' " 

Det.-Const. Payette shakes his head. "That's not about sex. That's about power."

Other, more forgivable motives also lead men to prostitutes. "There are men who go to sex workers for what they describe as some sort of emotional connection, a conversation, or just someone to be with," Mr. Atchison says.

Researchers and police agree johns are not some deviant sub-group. They are, Det.-Const. Payette says, a reflection of the whole community. "But that's not what people want to hear. People want to hear it's all uneducated people or it's all people from bad neighbourhoods. That's not true. We deal with everything in society."

In saying that, he neatly summarizes not just the reality of johns, but the entire commercial sex industry.

Prostitution is not some deviant activity. It is a mirror of all of us. Like the society it reflects, the reality of the sex trade varies from person to person. It is profoundly complex, defying easy stereotypes and, most of all, simple answers.

The Lethal Streets of Ottawa

Streetwalking in any city can be deadly. Ottawa is no exception.

Stacey Heil:

Found Oct. 15, 2000

A drug user from the age of 16, Stacey Joyce Heil, 30, was facing charges in connection with a series of bank robberies at the time of her death.

Early on the morning of Oct. 15, 2000, Ms. Heil's body was discovered lying in the middle of Concession Road 25 by a Bourget-area man with his five-year-old son and eight-year-old nephew, who were out riding all-terrain vehicles.

The streetwalker had been stripped naked except for a pair of socks, and there were obvious signs of trauma to the head and body.

Two weeks later, police arrested a Cornwall man, Richard Roger Chatelain, and charged him with first-degree murder. The case has not yet come to trial.

Carrie Mancuso:

Found Sept. 7, 1995

Carrie Mancuso, a drug abuser and prostitute, was found dead of asphyxiation in her Lafontaine Street apartment in Vanier.

Police believe she bought drugs Sept. 6 at the corner of Rideau and Nelson streets, then left in a taxi, returning to the Byward Market area later that evening.

At about 2 a.m., police say she left the Market with a man in a kilt, spending the night with him at her apartment.

Witnesses said he left in the morning through a window after an unknown man rang the bell. At 9:43 p.m. Sept. 7, a male friend found her dead.

The case remains unsolved.

Sophie Filion:

Found Dec. 3, 1993

Sophie Filion's body was found, clad only in a slip, and stuffed into two garbage bags in a parking lot in Westboro on Dec. 3, 1993. She had been strangled.

The 23-year-old cocaine addict and street prostitute had last been seen alive at about 6 a.m. on Nov. 16, 1993, when a man saw her getting into a white delivery van at the corner of Kent and Laurier streets.

Investigators narrowed the investigation to one man, but were never able to gather enough evidence to make an arrest.

Melinda Sheppit:

Found Sept. 30, 1990

Just 16 years old, Ms. Sheppit was no hardened streetwalker, but a lost girl from a good family who had become pregnant and soon drifted into a life of prostitution.

Her semi-nude body was found in a Murray Street parking lot around 11 a.m. She was missing a shoe. Police believe her killer may have taken it as a trophy.

Investigators said she'd only been working in the Market for three weeks before she was strangled to death.

Ms. Sheppit, a St. Patrick's High School student, had last been seen alive near Clarence and Dalhousie streets in the Byward Market in the early morning of Sept. 30. Some suggest she may have been getting into a car.

As with Sophie Filion, police believed they knew who had killed Ms. Sheppit, but did not have enough evidence to lay charges.

Jane Sutherland:

Found Oct. 23, 1984

Jane Louise Sutherland, a Cree teenager, left her Northern Ontario reserve for Ottawa in the spring of 1982.

Two and a half years later, her fully clothed body was found just after noon in Hull's Jacques Cartier Park, across the Ottawa River from Lowertown. She'd been dead two or three days.

She'd been strangled and her skull crushed with repeated blows from a blunt instrument.

A friend of Jane's told police the two had had a few beers that night at the Venezia Restaurant on Dalhousie Street. From there she left to walk to Hull.

A drug addict, Ms. Sutherland supported her habit through prostitution.

Her case has never been solved.


Is prostitution ever a choice?

Next Saturday:

Is the law killing women?

Contact Dan Gardner at 

 Copyright  2002 The Ottawa Citizen

Do some women really choose to be prostitutes?-June 9, 2002

The law has hounded hookers out of safe areas and into dark alleys, making them easy prey for murderers-June 15, 2002

Courting death: Part 2-The law has hounded hookers out of safe areas-June 15, 2002

How cities 'license' off-street hookers-June 16, 2002



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Updated: August 21, 2016