Back to Articles

These 'ladies' are children

From Winnipeg Free Press

January 25, 2009
Robert Marshall

The 1870s was a colourful time for Winnipeg, an era when the city shared the title as the most wicked in the country with, of all places, Barrie, Ont.

Winnipeg's reputation took the hit largely due to prostitution in what was the last populated stop before the open prairie. Even our first police chief, John Ingram, got caught up in the fabric and was arrested, pants down, with a courtesan named Ella Lewis in her red-light home on Sherbrook Street. The chief was fined $8 and forced to resign.

Fast-forward to the present day and we continue to write our sex-trade history establishing a legacy that is far more dark than colourful and in which children are taking the place of the "ladies" in a business that is very much alive.

But with kids involved it is not prostitution. It's child abuse.

It should bother us but, typically, we ignore it or pretend it's not there, turning a blind eye to the depravity of a grown man, perhaps our neighbour, engaging a preteen girl in small talk, luring her with promises of cash for sexual favours.

Stop Sex with Kids is an ongoing, provincially sponsored campaign that was initiated in 2006. Its efforts are geared toward debunking myths about the children caught in this web and educating the public, says Christy Dzikowicz, director of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The truth is that kids who are out turning tricks stand on frigid street corners after dark, and sometimes at dawn. Many more are exploited behind closed doors. Some are as young as eight and 10, not old enough to be without babysitters. In those short lives most of them have never caught even the smallest of breaks.

Most, though, can lay claim to having been abused sexually and physically. Many are runaways, almost all have had involvement with alcohol or drugs and 38 per cent have attempted suicide, according to Jane Runner of New Directions, a community group dedicated to children and families in Winnipeg.

The sheer number of these out-of-luck kids is disturbing with estimates of 400 in town and many more across the province.

The johns who make business possible are disgusting and as lame as their she-said-she-was-18 excuses.

Some are even more pathetic with their assertions that they are actually helping the child by paying them for sex. As cockeyed as that sounds, it is made worse by the reality that the child usually just turns the money over to a pimp, gang member or drug dealer.

For these kids the early years are writeoffs. Many can't fathom a future. There is only the present, a foggy circle of the next fix, booze, beatings and sexual activity with men, some old enough to be their grandfathers. They are Winnipeg's walking dead, working in a risky business.

The finger of blame could be pointed in many of directions but more important are the initiatives being introduced to combat the problem. Provincial officials and community groups have been active setting up outreach programs, safe-transition homes and specialized foster training.

The province has instructed its justice branch to beef up its child-exploitation policies by denying offenders access to alternative measures such as "john school" and by directing prosecutors to oppose bail and to "seek a sentence of incarceration for most offenders."

Deterrence is key because supply is at least partially dictated by demand. Potential johns would be wise to consider the case of former British Columbia judge David Ramsay.

He was sentenced to a seven-year jail term in 2004 for buying sex from children as young as 12 -- that's child abuse -- while he was a sitting judge. In 2007, at age 64 and suffering from cancer, he begged the parole board for release on humanitarian grounds. The request was denied.

Ramsay would have been discharged on statutory release this month but instead he died a child molester last year in a New Brunswick prison. That's deterrence and an education any john could learn from.

Maybe we can chuckle at the history of our first police chief more than a century ago. But today we are talking about children in a Winnipeg sex trade and 100 years from now nobody will be laughing. They will be as sick about it as all of us should be.

More information and dialogue is available at