Vancouver Police Department: Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines

Author: Vancouver Police Department (assisted by WISH, Pivot, BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, PEERS, PACE)

Citation (APA): Vancouver Police Department (n.d.). Sex Work Enforcement Guidelines. Retrieved from


The VPD has engaged in a variety of strategies to reduce crime and improve the safety of all
Vancouver residents. However, these strategies can sometimes come into conflict with each
other. For example, enforcement action is sometimes at odds with relationship building, though
both are necessary as part of a comprehensive approach to policing. These conflicts are
particularly frequent when dealing with individuals involved in the sex industry as a result of
inconsistent public attitudes, community complaints, and messaging from the courts on sex
industry related cases. For example, indiscriminate enforcement of the prostitution laws can
undermine sex workers’ relationships with police and decrease their ability to reach out to police
for help.

As a police agency, the VPD is obligated to enforce the laws of Canada, although police also
have considerable discretion in deciding when and how to enforce laws. Given that some
sections of the Criminal Code related to the sex industry are the subject of several constitutional
challenges, the VPD recognizes that these guidelines may need to be amended when the courts
issue their rulings.



When responding to sex work-related calls or situations, the Vancouver Police
Department’s priority is to ensure the safety and security of sex workers. Police calls
regarding violence against sex workers are a priority for assessment and response.

1) All cases of violence or abuse of sex workers are treated as serious criminal matters.
When a sex worker speaks to a VPD officer or attends a police station in-person alleging
violence, an officer should be assigned to investigate. The victim should not be directed
to return at another time, or to complete a written statement and return it later. The
timeliness of the victim’s report (e.g., several days or weeks after the event) does not
lessen the severity of the incident and must not affect the police response. If the incident
occurred in another police jurisdiction, the member receiving the complaint must ensure a
timely referral to the correct police agency. The member should inquire as to whether the
sex worker is connected to any support services.

2) When responding to complaints about indoor and outdoor sex work, including complaints
about “Micro Brothels” and “Independent Operators,” the safety and rights of the sex
worker(s) will be respected ensuring that police intervention is as nonintrusive and
informal as possible in order to protect the safety, and privacy of those they are
investigating. Officers shall consider the overall benefits of using discretion to resolve

3) When a sex-work related call or situation arises regarding indoor or street-based sex
worker(s), it is expected that:

a. Both Patrol and the Counter Exploitation Unit will build rapport with sex
workers by offering assistance, providing safety information and will discuss
options regarding locations of work so as to avoid residential areas, parks and
b. Officers will, where appropriate, involve the appropriate community policing
centre and the neighbourhood policing officers to determine the extent of any
community complaints and identify possible courses of action to resolve the
c. Where sex workers are the subject of complaints, officers will engage the Sex
Industry Liaison Officer and/or an appropriate community outreach service to
assist with resolving the situation;
d. In consultation with the Counter Exploitation Unit, officers will consider
implementing compliance checks for an indoor agency;
e. In consultation with the Counter Exploitation Unit, officers will determine if
more formal enforcement action is appropriate in cases that cannot be resolved
informally or involve a high risk situation;
f. Where enforcement action is deemed necessary, all reasonable steps will be taken
to show respect and dignity for those parties involved. (for example, at the
execution of a search warrant, officers should be prepared to supply sex industry
workers with blankets or robes to wrap themselves in while in police presence or
provide adequate time for the worker to dress); and,
g. Officers will consistently use their professional judgement and discretion in
determining the proportional and least intrusive response necessary to affect the
desired outcome.

4) The VPD will investigate and enforce all relevant federal, provincial and municipal laws
against those who abuse, exploit or sexually exploit children/youth. The VPD will
identify, investigate and remove exploited children/teens (under the age of 18) involved
in sex work. The VPD will use all enforcement options available to ensure the removal of
youth from unsafe circumstances with the objective of introducing under-aged victims
found working in the sex industry to supporting social agencies that can assist in placing
them in a safe environment and who can assist with exit strategies.

5) The VPD will actively enforce the laws to target exploitive practices against those who
engage in human trafficking, organized crime and financial exploitation/avoidance.

6) The Counter Exploitation Unit will provide guidance, training and assistance to the
Operations Division, in particular, an operational partnership with identified and targeted
district priorities to assist in reducing public disorder issues specific to community

7) The VPD will monitor and maintain intelligence reports to identify and track potentially
violent sex industry consumers/exploitive abusers, identify trends and assist in day to day
operational planning, and

8) The VPD will utilize wherever appropriate the VPD Sex Industry Liaison Officer and
participate in open dialog with local government committees, local community
organizations and sex industry support groups to assist in the continuing development of
providing support strategies for sex industry workers.

Read the full document at:

Sarah M’s comments: I am uncomfortable posting an article authored by the police. They are often not helpful to sex workers. But given the current policy debate in Canada, I think it warrants public attention. The “Merseyside Model” in the UK treats violence against sex workers as very serious crimes while not enforcing anti-prostitution laws. VPD faced significant criticism of its handling of decades of violence against sex workers and very recently began working with sex workers to find a better way to operate. This is as close as any municipality in Canada has come to the Merseyside Model, and with the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, further development of these methods in the interest of sex workers’ safety could be a viable alternative to re-criminalization of sex workers or criminalization of sex buyers. 

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