When I first moved into the Niagara Region 12 years ago, it was decaying tourist trap, whose best days seemed long gone. Everyone knew where the prostitutes worked. They were on the historic Lundy’s Lane, and the ones that were in rougher shape worked the Bridge St area. Though locals would complain about how obvious they had become, little was done about their presence. You see whether the city would admit it or not, the prostitutes were a necessary aid to the local economy. When the lights at Wax Museum failed to bring in the tourists womens bodies kept the local economy afloat during the lean winter months.
Clean up this city, raged the local residents. Their worries involved property value, and had nothing to do with the exploitation that these women were living through. Indeed, prostitutes were, and are viewed as vermin to be exterminated, never mind that these women were struggling to survive in a city that mostly supplied seasonal work at that time. The money earned from prostitution would in some cases go to augment the meager amount of money received on unemployment insurance during the cold winter months. Never mind that there were few social support networks in the area to help these women give up a life on the streets, or reasonably paying full year jobs that would eleviate the need to work as a prostitute. Just get rid of the vermin is all the locals wanted.
Flash forward 12 years and the metamorphosis to the trafficking areas is obvious. No longer can one drive along those streets and see a parade of prostitutes. Niagara is now pitching itself as a “family” styled Las Vegas, and so now the city and the residents concur that the prostitutes need to go. Other than gaming and the declining auto industry ( one GM plant) there is no real industry to speak of. Most jobs are low paying service sector jobs and quite a few are still seasonal. In the last 12 years the price of gas, food and rent has skyrocketed in this area, making the need to earn extra income that much more dire.
In a classic don’t ask, don’t tell, prostitution has moved in doors. Just a short drive down highway 20 and there are a myriad of strip clubs to choose from. In the downtown core there are a few “massage parlors”. It would seem like the perfect solution in that the residents and the city are both happy, prostitution is no longer visible, and yet the city still benefits from the blackmarket economy that the sex trade provides.
Everyone is happy, except that is for the prostitutes that now are not only exploited by their johns, their pimps, and the city, they can now add sleazy strip club owners and massage parlor owners to the list. Everywhere a prostitute turns in this region there is someone waiting to prey upon her position as a marginalized member of this community. Everyone is being enriched by their labor while they struggle to survive largely living in cheap rundown older motels. These invisible workers of the region are necessary to the economy, and yet they are stigmatized bodies. When they think of the falls it is not with misty eyed visions of a romantic honeymoon, instead they live with the real threat of violence, rape, police harassment and STD’s.
Earlier this week I blogged about the murder of Stephanie Beck. For her murder Wayne Ryczak received a sentence of time served plus a day. He admitted to killing her in “self-defense”. Many were shocked at the sentencing in this instance. When one stops and thinks about the communal conscience when it comes to prostitution can it really be a surprise? If sex trade workers are not enriching the community they are considered expendable. It matters not that are someone’s daughter, or possibly someone’s mother or sister, all that matters is the degree to which they can effect the local economy. Ryczak did not pay for his crime because he only acted on what the community has been wanting for a decade – take out the trash, and get rid of the vermin.