The sex trade is real, it’s the oldest industry in the new world, so of course it’s happening here. And if it remains taboo, if it remains something forced underground, unassisted by community organizations and police, people are going to get hurt. Including vulnerable youth.

Government released a redacted version of a report this week, “It’s Nobody’s Mandate and Everyone’s Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador.” They talked with over 100 sex workers throughout NL who “helped paint a picture of what is happening in our province.”

To date, the report has been credited with improved collaboration among police, government, and agencies that provide services which can prevent the harm or exploitation of potential victims of the sex trade. Sites were visited in BC, so we could emulate similar organizations here, including street outreach services.

What Is Survival Sex? …

Survival Sex is the most common form of sex work in Newfoundland & Labrador. “By far.”

Survival sex includes sex in direct exchange for food, accommodation, transportation, drug addictions, etc. It’s taking place from St. John’s right across the island, and up into Northern Labrador. It is common, quite common, more common than you’d think. And is the result of people feeling like there are no community services as alternatives to this lifestyle.

Think about it: we don’t all have a job, or a mom or a dad, or a place to turn to for help in our community – so there is a need for more community support systems across the island for poverty. Not every child has the cab fare to get to the hospital two towns over when their mother or father is dying.

The majority of these people do not self-identify as sex workers, nor do they see themselves as part of that industry. They’re doing as they feel they must to get by. They see no support systems in place to help them, so they help themselves with a way that pays.

“Couch Sex” …

“Couch Sex” is one of the more common forms of survival sex – it means paying for rent in sexual favours.

Many more women than you think have done so in this province. And they write it off as a bad night or two between jobs. Sometimes, once they’ve done it, a slumlord will threaten to expose them if they don’t do it again.

Others have a more permanent arrangement with their landlord. The names of such a landlord are often circulated among friends in similar circumstances, so they know how to find accommodation this way. For them it’s this, or a night in the streets, or in an abusive relationship, etc.

The report deems “Couch Sex” to be a growing problem for younger women in rural communities, where it is a common last resort for accommodation.

“Sometimes, women talk so nonchalantly about trading [things] for sex,” the report declares, “that we wonder if it can be so prevalent, or if women don’t know it’s an issue.” Other times, “Women live with men in what looks like a relationship, but it’s really only for a place to live.”

A lack of housing in Labrador communities is a particular driver for survival sex. If they had a place to stay, many say they simply wouldn’t be doing what they’re doing for a roof over their head.

Survival sex, naturally, can lead to sexual and physical and emotional assault. And these assaults aren’t reported because the women feel guilty or ashamed about their life situation, or worry it’ll impede their future couch surfing capabilities if they’re known to “cause trouble.”

No Alternative …

Many women will stay in dangerous couch sex scenarios because they simply have nowhere else to go. They won’t run off to a shelter, because that’s only a short term solution. What about after the shelter? Where will they go then? Crawling back to a man who’s angry she left him for a shelter?

Some of these women will call a shelter to talk, for emotional release, but will not go there to stay. Women have also reported that boarding homes – which often don’t have locks on their bedroom doors – are not safe havens, and many do not feel safe there.

As an alternative to a shelter, some women will get into a bar, hit on someone, and be taken home, instead of spending the night on the streets, or in the bed of a more abusive man.

These women will often do as they’re asked, either to keep accommodation where they can find it, or to avoid abuse. This might include sleeping with a man’s brother or friend as a favour. Once she does it once, it’s held over her head as something to be ashamed of, or something she should do again and again since she’s already done it.

Survival Sex to Provide for Children …

Other forms of survival sex including attempts at providing for children. Some moms report simply wanting their children comfortably dressed in brand name clothes at school, so they’ll avoid bullying and the desire to cut class or quit school altogether.

Many moms report living with men they feel nothing for, to exchange sex for accommodations. Sometimes, the man and woman even have a child together.


Drug-related Survival Sex

In rural communities, many drug dealers trade drugs for sexual favour with multiple clients – keep in mind a serious addict becomes violently sick and desperate without a fix. Dealers know this. They can get a woman hooked with the idea of “owning them” in mind.

Boyfriends, similarly, can use a drug-addicted girlfriend to their advantage: free drugs for the couple, if the girlfriend has sex with the dealer.

It’s not always dealers abusing their position or hold over an addict. Sometimes doctors will prescribe pills to a woman willing to fellate or sleep with him. Likewise with other healthcare workers who have access to pills.

It’s been reported that these bastards “ramp up a woman who is already addicted” so she becomes more and more desperate for drugs, and more and more likely to exchange sexual favours for the drugs. Once a woman commits a sex act for drugs, people threaten to expose and shame her if she doesn’t do it again, and again.

Custodial Survival Sex

The report indicates than men sometimes use a child to gain sex from the child’s mother. This includes forcing the mother into sex if she wants to see or spend time with a child she doesn’t have custody of.

Or if she wants childcare money, he’ll withhold it for sex. Occasionally, a violent man will threaten to hurt or “take her child” if she didn’t have sex with him, or even him and his friends.

Other times people in authoritative roles threaten mothers that if they don’t have sex with him, he’ll reveal information that will cost the mother custody of her child. Blackmail.

Conclusion: It’s happening. Survival Sex is common in our province. Now let’s talk, on municipal and provincial levels, about what we can do, that other provinces do, to minimize this last resort for people living in Newfoundland and Labrador.