The dos and don’ts for the budding bordello businessperson.
The sex industry in Toronto received a potentially major boost last month when the Ontario Court of Appeal struck down some of the laws that have constrained the open operation of prostitution businesses. Notably, the court ruled that “bawdy houses”—that is, brothels—should become legal early in 2013, and that “living off the avails of prostitution” should be allowed as long as no exploitation takes place.
The ruling is heralded by sex-worker advocacy organizations as an important step in creating a safer working environment, bringing prostitution out of the shadows and into the normal business environment. But since we’ve kept the world’s oldest profession in the back alleys for so long, many people aren’t sure what a normal, legal sex industry will look like.
Talk has suddenly turned to potential red-light districts, a concept many consider flawed. City planners in the Jane Jacobs mould would tell you that setting aside any area for single-industry use will create an urban mess (a line of thinking that the policing and traffic complaints in the club district has borne out in recent years). And sex-industry experts such as Ryerson University’s Emily van der Meulen, who has studied sex work around the world, agree. Amsterdam, home to a famous red-light district, is trying to change its zoning laws to address problems that have been created by the ghettoization of the industry. But if not in red-light districts, then where? Van der Meulen says that’s like asking where we’re going to put all the hair salons: The answer is throughout the city, wherever there is a demand.
Like the issue of red-light districts, much of how brothels will operate in Toronto will depend on regulations that aren’t yet established. But if you wanted to open a brothel of your own, and could assume the laws will be written to accommodate the needs of the industry, here’s what you’d want to consider.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
DO consider your proximity to transit, parking, and highways.
Chanelle Gallant of sex worker–advocacy organization Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, says that proximity to transportation hubs is vital for workers and clients. “You’ve got to think about parking, and accessibility to transit or major highways,” Gallant says. “If your clients are by the airport, they’re not going to want to come downtown.” Similarly, if your clients work in the financial district, they won’t want to trek out to industrial areas in the suburbs—which also tend to be desolate and unsafe places for workers coming and going.
DO consider the kind of business you want to run, and the kind of clients you want to attract.
Mary-Anne Kenworthy, who owns and operates a large bordello named Langtrees in Western Australia, says that in a nightlife district, a street-level bordello can add to the atmosphere of the neighbourhood and be successful. Her 17-room brothel is near the casino on the edge of Perth, where it does a thriving tourist business.
DO ensure the streets around you are bustling.
“Brothels need to be on well-lit, main roads,” Kenworthy says. “The majority of sex work is still done at night.”
DON’T rule out a smaller, possibly home-based business.
Although Kenworthy’s brothel is massive, she notes that such an arrangement may not be practical, or even desirable, for
most business owners. “I personally believe the 13th floor of a highrise is ideal, with discreet signage,” she says, sketching out a small, low-key operation embedded in a residential neighbourhood.
DON’T worry too much about what the neighbours will think.
Asked if the coming and going of clients would present a problem in, say, a condo tower staffed by a concierge, Gallant compares the logistics to a registered massage therapist who works from home. “Do they have problems with security and neighbours?” she asks rhetorically, pointing out that the people who pay for sex tend to be even less disruptive than customers in most other businesses. “The clients of sex workers, and sex workers themselves, want it to be discreet.”
DON’T treat sex workers as employees.
In almost any situation around the world where brothels are legal, prostitutes are independent business people who essentially rent space from the brothel owner (who in many cases is a sex worker, too).
DON’T try to dictate what services workers will or won’t provide.
Sexual service providers set their own terms for what they’ll do with a client, and often set their own prices, hours, and other conditions of employment. Kenworthy says that in her experience, it’s not just a respectful thing to do for women and men who have intimate contact with others for a living, but also the only way to ensure that clients and everyone else involved is happy. “The brothel owner has no ownership or control over the services themselves; everything is always the girls’ choice. It’s an emotional business and different people have different comfort levels, and they can change from day to day. The girls must be treated as individuals who are in control of their own services.”
DO hire support staff.
Someone at the reception desk will be necessary, a bartender or other staff for a lounge may be needed, web developers will be useful for marketing, and then there are maintenance and cleaning staff to consider. If the brothel also provides out-call services—that is, goes to see clients—one or more drivers will be needed. And as with any business, professional services such as accounting and legal staff will need to be contracted or hired.
DO consider offering a discreet way to enter, as many strip clubs do.
DON’T skimp on rooms.
A brothel will need one working room—a bedroom—for every sex worker they plan to have operating at a given time.
DO make sure you provide enough washrooms and showers.
Kenworthy says that it’s a good practice to have a washroom with shower facilities available for each room (“The girls have requirements after each client,” she notes).
DO ensure you have laundry facilities.
Sheets should be changed after each session.
DO have a reception desk equipped to take payments, and a waiting area for clients.
It doesn’t need to be as grand as Kenworthy’s waiting area—a large lounge with a bar, where clients can spend up to three hours having a drink and meeting the workers before selecting who they want an appointment with—but you do need something.
SAFETY & HEALTH
DON’T bother hiring burly security staff.
“Despite the perceptions, it’s not a dangerous industry,” Kenworthy says. “In three decades, I’ve never been so much as hit by a client. Occasionally, someone is drunk and we have to ask them to leave, but you don’t throw them out physically, you do it by asking firmly and walking them out. Really, I have fewer problems than the rest of the businesses down the street.”
DO call the police if you encounter any problems.
“Decriminalization is a great deterrent, because predators are then no longer choosing to target sex workers. Criminalization makes sex workers available physically to people who want to do harm,” says Gallant of Maggie’s. Bottom line: When a business is open, legitimate, and able to call the police force to deal with problems, those problems go elsewhere.
DO employ enough reception staff.
Kenworthy says she employs at least one receptionist for every five sex workers on duty, to ensure there are plenty of bodies around to help deal with anything that comes up.
DO get clients to pay upfront.
Collect fees upon entry to ensure no disputes arise about payment.
DO avoid letting clients get drunk.
At her bar, Kenworthy enforces a two-drink maximum, both to keep belligerence to a minimum and to ward off situations in which clients are angered by being “unable to get it up.”
DO recognize the value you add for your neighbours.
Kenworthy says that as a 24-hour business, “My neighbours love me because for 20 years, no one’s had a break-in.”
DO encourage workers to engage in open conversation about personal health.
Gallant says that a peer-education program is one of the key benefits of decriminalization. “You can have open conversations about services, safer sex, and occupational health and safety with fellow sex workers, with management, and with clients,” she says. That, she adds, is key to ensuring every worker is taking care of his or her own health, and has accurate information to do so.
A New Zealand study found the number of sex workers decreased after prostitution was decriminalized in 2003.
Officials in Amsterdam estimate sexual transactions account for US$100 million annually in local spending.
An Australian study showed STD-infection rates to be four times higher among nurses than prostitutes. For the general population: 10 times jhigher.
Toronto sex shops Good For Her, Come As You Are and Seduction offer 10-per-cent discounts to sex workers.