By Laura Blenkinsop
In the late days of summer, clingy parents unload cars full of Ikea furniture and school supplies outside Pitman Hall. For many of the Ryerson frosh, it’s their first time living in a big city, a fact likely weighing heavy on the minds of parents.
Meanwhile up the street, Toronto police sweep local prostitution under a temporary welcome mat. “It’s so parents don’t freak out,” says Steve Martin, a street pastor at Sanctuary, an outreach ministry.
He’s spent 17 years visiting prostitutes on the stroll. “They [street workers and pimps] don’t like it — it cuts down on business. But they’ll tolerate it because shortly after, it’s back to normal.”
For the neighbourhood just down Mutual Street, normal is the pimps, their street workers and the johns.
Ryerson students are just another element of the landscape, a nuisance to some, and just another client to others.
Drunken jokes, dares or simple curiosity lead students to approach prostitutes, says John Fenn, executive director of StreetLight, an organization that runs “exiting programs.”
He says university-aged men mainly look for oral sex. “They go in with the fear of getting caught so they want something quick,” he explains. “Younger guys are smarter these days about STIs and the consequences of getting caught with their drawers down.”
Wendy Babcock, 27, an indoor sex worker and a member of the Bad Date Coalition of Toronto, has a different take. She doesn’t see many students because “students tend to go for older girls in their 30s and 40s.
At university, there are lots of girls around their own age but they want an older woman to show them the ropes.” Babcock is not a fan of inexperienced student clients.
“I used to get virgins a lot. I don’t like virgins,” she laughs. “You have to show them everything and they take too long.”
An escort, who goes by the pseudonym Kenzie Taylor, agrees. She gets calls from younger guys who sound nervous or scared.
“They’re virgins who can’t get rid of it or who can’t get any through girls in school,” she says. Still, she mostly doesn’t see students. “I don’t want to deal with university guys. The best clients are businessmen,” she says. “University guys can’t afford it. There’s no point in marketing to them.” Around Ryerson, the sex industry is accepted as part of the urban landscape.
Adult cinemas, strip clubs and sex shops offering student discounts surround campus. At night the Jarvis stroll, land marked by “Hooker Harvey’s,” opens for business.
The infamous fast food joint sits on the south east corner of the “high track.” From Carlton to Gerrard streets, and Church to Jarvis streets, women dress up in high boots and big coats, providing services at steep rates.
South of Gerrard is the “low track,” where women wear whatever they own and turn tricks to survive or buy drugs.
“On the high track there’s not a lot of hardened drugs because they’ve got to maintain their looks,” Martin says.
Another difference: on the low track, condoms are optional. Martin says the Harvey’s high track is way out of a student’s league.
With rates ranging from $100 to $300, depending on the service, Babcock confirms university students typically can’t afford it.
One low track prostitute says she’s had a few Ryerson students. Apparently, a starving student’s needs extend beyond deals on transit and textbooks.
“They’re cheap and they try to go even cheaper than cheap,” she says. “They say things like ‘I don’t have that much money I’m a Ryerson student.’”
Martin says that wouldn’t fly on the high track. “They say, ‘This is not a welfare corner.’ They’re not gonna take that crap.”
But Babcock says prostitutes often take a lot of harassment from students — anything from chucking insults to explosives.
Last May 24 weekend, she says people who appeared to be from Ryerson threw fire crackers at women while they were working.
Valerie Scott, the executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada, says that in the past, students wearing Ryerson gear have thrown eggs at prostitutes.
Most common though, is verbal abuse shouted from the safety of the other side of the street. “Get a job,” a taunt normally reserved for panhandlers, is recycled and spat across late night traffic.
“We hate that insult. It’s like ‘well I have one. I’m working. I’m at work,’” says Scott. While some students taunt, others negotiate.
Those who do and are caught often wind up at StreetLight’s “John School” — a program for people charged with communicating for the purpose of purchasing sex.
In exchange for $500 and one day in class, police will drop charges. Fenn says about three per cent of the 7,000 johns he’s seen are students. Compared to stubborn “old married guys,” he says, “university students come with a more open mind.
They observe more and ask more questions. They’re more used to the classroom environment.” Ryerson security has little to do with the sex business unless it finds its way onto the property.
One security guard says that he stumbled upon people being serviced in cars in the theatre school parking lot. “It comes with the area,” he says.