Can We Help to
The crisis over canada’s prostitution laws means now is the time
to bring urgently needed improvements in law – and in our atti-
tudes and ministries as individuals and as christian institutions.
By Karen Stiller
Every time something really bad would happen to Katarina MacLeod, 38, she would get a tattoo. The Toronto-area woman is covered from head to toe. “I thought if I covered myself, clients would
be scared,” she says. One tattoo reads “D. T.A.,” which
stands for “Don’t Trust Anyone.” Another is a black rose,
dripping with blood. It says, “Love is Suicide.”
Her clients included “lawyers, judges, construction
workers, police, guys who want things done that they
obviously can’t do with their better half, and regular guys
who come in and want some comfort.”
MacLeod entered the “sex trade” by working in mas-
sage parlours at age 21. She had a few more years of life
behind her than most girls do when they are first trapped,
but what led up to it is agonizingly typical. “I was in an
abusive relationship. I had been abused most of my life,”
she explains. “My father didn’t have much to do with us.
We grew up in the system.”
MacLeod endured violent relationships with one bad
boyfriend after another. She lived through abuse better
called torture. If her life were a movie, you would want
to look away, horrified by what was unfolding on the
screen in front of you.
“I think what happened was because I was an abuse
victim for so long – these kinds of people prey on the
weak. You end up in this whirlwind of wanting to be
accepted and wanting to be loved,” she says.
A month after she had her fourth child, her 14-year-old
eldest daughter told her she was being raped by Mac-
Leod’s current boyfriend – the father of MacLeod’s new
baby. “I needed a lawyer, so I started turning tricks. How
was I going to pay the bills? I have these four kids, I need
to pay rent. I need to make money. I have no education,”
she says. “I didn’t know any other way.”
She estimates 10,000 men bought her for sex during
her years as a prostituted woman. Sometimes she would
MacLeod has been free of prostitution for two years
now, and free of drugs for almost that long. “In selling
my body I became a drug addict, popping pills. Every girl
I’ve ever met in this industry has been abused,” she says.
“Girls as young as 14, with moms that were drug addicts.
Not one girl I met was stable. All of us did drugs; every
single one was high. If you have a soul, you can’t do this
and feel no shame or not dirty. Feeling like that for so
long, if you don’t numb it, you’re going to kill yourself.”
Two years out is not a long time.
But MacLeod has turned her former life inside out
trying to make sense of it. “I have gone through every
emotion out there,” she says. When asked the painful
question – if she felt, with the vantage point of time, she
could have made a different choice so many years ago
– her answer is unequivocal. “No. I don’t believe there
was a choice. I had no one offering me help. I didn’t have
people close to me. I didn’t know if there were resources.
It didn’t even cross my mind. What I knew how to do was
sell my body. And that’s what I did.”
an un-free choice
Derek Parenteau helps run STAND (Street Alternatives
and New Directions) out of Yonge St. Mission in Toronto.
STAND helps prostituted girls who are ready to begin
the slow, painful climb off the streets and out of the mas-
sage parlours. “No one is in it because they like it,” says
Parenteau. “They’ve been forced into it, either directly by
a pimp or indirectly by financial need.”
After years of working in this ministry, Parenteau has
reached a conclusion, one he says is shared by “anyone who
has credibility and is doing good work, whether Christian
or otherwise.” His conclusion: “That people working in the
sex trade are the victims. The others are sexual exploiters,
the predators. If you really know what you are doing and
you are really involved, nothing else makes sense.”