News / Edmonton

‘Why does a man think he can choke a woman?’ City pushes ahead with protections for body rub industry

Advocates say women working in the parlours continue to face abuse

Kathleen Quinn, the executive director of the Centre to End All Sexual Assault, says Edmonton should do more to help people working in body rub parlours.

Jeremy Simes / Metro

Kathleen Quinn, the executive director of the Centre to End All Sexual Assault, says Edmonton should do more to help people working in body rub parlours.

More than half of employees of body rub parlours in Edmonton have been slapped, strangled or otherwise assaulted, according to an advocate who asked members of city council Monday to do more to help women at risk.

At a committee meeting Tuesday morning, staff outlined bylaw changes that would cut annual licensing fees for people—primarily women—working in parlous and exotic dancing establishments or offering escort services. Under the new rules Edmonton police would also do robust background checks on those who want to open up shop.

If approved, staff argued the rules would stop women from having to work in unsafe, unregulated environments.

 “Why does a man think he can choke a woman? Why does he slap her? Hit her? Hold her down? Why does he want to take the condom off, and force her in any way? Why does he think he can do that in this industry?” said Kathleen Quinn, the executive director with the Centre to End All Sexual Assault (CEASE), an Edmonton-based organization that helps people who have been trafficked or sexually exploited.

Quinn cited a report, where CEASE staff interviewed 42 practitioners and found 57 per cent of them reported some physical harm.

“These perpetrators are rarely held accountable and are guaranteed anonymity by our current system,” she said.

City planners have made changes in recent years to help people working in the body rub industry, by requiring alarms, surveillance systems, proper lighting, and panic buttons. Regulations also require two people to be in the store at all times, with no locks on the doors inside the workspace.

But fees have helped push some businesses to operate without city approval, meaning their staff don’t benefit from improved regulation, said Ryan Pleckaitis, city director of complaints and investigations.

Although cases of abuse haven’t been reported to 311, he said, that “doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,”

Following a debate, councillors asked administration to rewrite the bylaw so practitioners don’t have to pay the yearly licensing fee. Staff were also asked to consult with police and other stakeholders to determine how body rub centres could identify people who use their services.

“This is a good first step,” Quinn said. “We have a duty to do something as a city.”

No time frame was given for when staff are to return with recommendations, but it will likely come before council next year.

More on Metronews.ca