Anna lives a harrowing but rewarding double life as the acting prostitute in Calgary sting operations

In order to protect her identity, The Calgary Journal agreed to refer to the officer as Anna.

It was her second day as a police officer without supervision — up to this point she was always accompanied by a senior police officer — when Anna was dispatched to the scene of a woman reportedly thrown from a moving semi-trailer truck cab on Deerfoot Trail.

The woman, a sex worker, had been repeatedly threatened by the driver. Becoming more and more afraid for her safety, she pulled out a pair of scissors from her purse and stabbed the driver. He started to slow down, pulled to the side of the highway and threw her out of the cab. He never stopped to let her out, and he continued driving after pushing her to the ground.

By the time Anna arrived it was just after midnight and the traffic was light. The victim was jittery. She wasn’t badly injured, but would be taken to the hospital for a check-up. Between the crack cocaine she had used and the events that had transpired, she didn’t calm down easily — until Anna asked the woman if she remembered her.

“She was my first childhood friend when I moved to Calgary,” Anna said, “and she was so nice. She was valedictorian of her graduating class. I couldn’t believe it was her I was picking up off the highway.”

They talked in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. Anna reminded her one-time friend of childhood stories to calm her. In turn Anna listened to stories about the woman’s new life. When Anna asked how she got into the lifestyle, the answer was quick, “I tried cocaine for the first time on grad night, and, I liked it.”

The woman couldn’t be a viable witness given her state. The driver was never found, and no charges were ever laid. Anna said she isn’t sure where the woman is now. But that encounter was one factor in her decision to take on police work in the sex trade.

“That incident was what pushed me to be able to work [on this] side,” Anna said at an interview in a downtown Calgary cafe.

“Here I am a police officer fresh on the job trying to prove myself, and I’ve got her, who is my first friend in Calgary, picking her up off the ground. It kind of gave me that nudge.”

Becoming Anna the prostitute

Anna isn’t big but she is strong. She doesn’t slouch, but sits relaxed. Her eyes are bright and her hair is pulled tight into a ponytail. Without hesitation she retells stories about her time on duty. She doesn’t swear unless she is talking about work, and then she uses the vocabulary of a longshoreman.

Canada’s new prostitution laws seek to criminalize the purchaser of sexual services while providing support for sex workers. Photo by Jodi BrakAs a plainclothes police officer, one of Anna’s roles is to masquerade as a prostitute on Calgary’s sex strolls. She is used to many forms of abuse while on the job, and is acutely aware of the tension between her professional and personal life.

Although maintaining balance between the two is difficult, she has made it possible for her passion and family to co-exist by spending time alone after work before engaging in family life. Over time, Anna’s sympathy for sex workers has continued to increase because she hopes to shed light on a dark subject she’s come to know so well.

It all starts with a shopping trip to Value Village. Once Anna has jeans, heels and other tight fitting clothes, she heads back to the office to meet up with the other female officers.

“We start talking dirty, you know, to stop talking like a cop and get into the role.”

Up to two weeks at a time Anna pulls on her ripped jeans, slips on her flip-flops and buys cigarettes before heading out to one of two active strolls in Calgary. Anna stands on one of the well-known strolls, adrenaline rushing through her, rehearsing her lines:

“You looking for a party?”

“A blow job?”

“Yeah, you got $60?”

When johns drive around a few times she stares into their eyes.

“They think I’m flirting. I’m not flirting, I’m memorizing facial features.”

She says no one will remember you if you’re good at your job. So far, no one recalls Anna.

Calgary Police Services (CPS) has a team called the Vice Unit, which is dedicated to offences arising from prostitution and human trafficking. Vice’s team is hardly large enough to clean up the streets with Canada’s new prostitution laws (see sidebar). Instead, CPS sends out plainclothes teams to conduct street prostitution stings two to three times a year.

It isn’t uncommon for Anna to have to play different types of sex workers in one night during a sting. Oftentimes she changes outfits in her car from a high-end prostitute to a prostitute with a bruise or dirtied hair for a lower-end stroll.

“Because I get so into the role and accomplishing that, I’ve got to switch back and forth into the role, out of the role, doing my notes as a police officer.”

Canadian prostitution laws: Quick facts

• Offering, providing or obtaining sexual services in a public place or in any place open to public view that stops or attempts to stop vehicles or impedes the free flow of pedestrian/motor traffic is punishable
• Communicating to provide sexual services in public places are punishable offences
• Bill C-36 states that a person, who possesses handcuffs, rope, duct tape or other items of restraint with intent to commit an offence, including assault or sexual assault, is guilty of an offence under section 88. A person who uses an item of restraint to commit an assault or sexual assault is guilty of the more serious form of those offences: assault with a weapon or sexual assault with a weapon, as the case may be.

One night during a sting operation, Anna was determined to get a john she had seen prowling the stroll a million times. “There’s something about him, I just know it.” She points in the direction this all happened, just two blocks from the café where she is being interviewed.

“We’ve found a lot of rape gear. You know, duct tape and rope and just numerous things beside the driver’s seat. And I don’t want this guy to leave without having searched his car.”

It’s dark and there are no police lights, no uniform, no wires and no weapons; it’s just Anna pretending to be a prostitute with a pack of cigarettes and extensive knowledge of self-defence with her team waiting nearby.

As Anna’s waiting for this guy to drive around again, a church group comes out of their building with a dozen kids holding their parents’ hands, who are in turn shielding their kids’ eyes from Anna. Instinctively, Anna stops her pursuit. She can’t let on to the parents who she is but refuses for these children to see her work in action.

“I’m a mother and a proud person. Of course it gets to me after a while.”

While she is playing a role that she never has to follow through on, it is all too real for her that sex workers do have to follow through.

Unfortunately when rape gear is found, very little can be done with the evidence since the materials haven’t been used. Loopholes in Canadian law like this make prostitution charges difficult. For instance, when Anna approaches a car, the occupant or occupants must be active participants in the transaction. After she asks if the john is looking for a party, she can’t simply charge him based on a positive response. Only once the transaction is in place can Anna do her real job.

Separating work and home life

Teenagers roll down their car windows to yell things like “slut” and “whore,” throwing pennies near her feet. Passers-by think it’s funny to throw half-eaten chicken wings or slices of pizza at her before they turn to each other and laugh.

“Stuff like that happens all the time, but they don’t know who I really am,” she says.

After one sting, a man who was charged took Anna to court to fight it.

“He said I lured him. Yep, I waved him over with my leg, how could he resist.” She’s obviously annoyed about it, but goes on to share what it means to have support from the system after you witness what sex workers go through on a daily basis.

She mimics the judge’s voice saying, “’I believe the officer’s account when she said that the accused offered her $30 to eat her [out].’” Surprised the judge would repeat the offense in court, she laughs.

“When I leave a sting operation for the night, I go straight home. I shower right away to get the artificial bruise off my eye, or get the grease out of my hair. I walk into my children’s rooms and kiss them while they sleep. I smell their hair, and then I cuddle with my husband,” Anna says.

Like most parents, Anna wakes up early to get the kids to daycare and school. Work begins just a few hours later, so Anna goes back home to rest for a couple hours. “I get about four hours consecutive sleep during stings. By the end of two weeks, I look like I’ve been hit by a truck,” Anna says. 

“Sometimes after two weeks of this I’m like, I don’t ever want to have sex again. Or, I wonder if my hubby and I should just jump right into it because I need to remember what a meaningful, healthy connection is.” Anna nearly jokes. Unfortunately her job has risks like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that aren’t as obvious as physical threats, something Anna has to prepare for and cope with after her experiences.

Many professionals like police officers, emergency services workers or medical examiners use dark humour to keep their spirits up. Although some people might not agree with that kind of humour, Anna says people would commit suicide after five years in the service without coping mechanisms like this due to the inhumane situations they have to deal with on a regular basis. Normalcy at home helps as well.

“Last night I made enchiladas on the fly. I didn’t have all the ingredients so I made up my own recipe. It was amazing.” The self-proclaimed foodie scrunches her nose at the thought of anything gluten-free, refusing to put boundaries around food. Her kids leave her alone knowing if they do there will be a tasty reward at the end. In doing so, she finally gets to unwind and find balance again.

Anna doesn’t talk to her colleagues a lot outside of work. She says the guys on her team have become family, having her back in any situation because they’ve come to know her on a level that no one else will ever see.

Not every officer she’s worked with in the past nine years of her career has been great, but she’s been lucky with her current team who have many of the same passions as she does. They are her brothers who hold her in great esteem, protect her, and uphold her reputation regardless of the role she plays. But she says they do forget that she’s a girl sometimes. Talking with her husband, brother and father also keeps her from losing sight of the good guys.

A Calgary “stroll” where sex workers present themselves to potential clients. Lonely streets like this are where Anna works when she is part of a sting operation. Photo by Deanna Tucker“Before I was on the job I went in a ride-along where the cop I was with started yelling at a prostitute. She told him to get lost and he said, ‘Whatever, you’re a prostitute.’ It’s not that he was a bad guy, you know, it’s just that he was so uneducated.

“It really saddened me to see that, but the perspective has changed a lot in the office, and it’s been good to see that shift in mindset towards sex workers. It’s been a long time coming.”

Understanding prostitution

A lot of people think about Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when they consider prostitutes. Anna shakes her head, “That is the worst movie!” She used to love it as a kid, but that’s not what she sees when she’s working a sting. On occasion there is fishnet stockings, tight skirts and high heels. But she also sees lots of sex workers in jeans, boots and jackets. Richard Gere isn’t there to save the day though she says not all johns are there to hurt the women either.

The johns who pass by on the street range from the socially awkward to rich guys, poor guys, taxi drivers who need a break or dads in the family minivan.

“One time I had a guy with his kid in the back seat,” she says. When Anna asked about the kid the john said nonchalantly that it wouldn’t take long and the little guy would be fine. Because her team was able to catch this, the child in the back seat wasn’t victimized that night. The van’s tow bill could be sent to the registered owner, the man’s wife, and follow up with social services could be completed for the sake of the child’s wellbeing.

“I don’t really care if the government legalizes pot, you know, I just don’t. But they’re working so hard on that while we have people in our own community losing their freedoms every day.” Having experienced first-hand what street-level prostitution involves has convinced Anna that our country needs someone to stand up for the rights and freedoms of sex workers.

“I’m not saying that legalizing prostitution is bad if we had the right resources,” she adds, “but when you’ve got girls who chew a piece of gum and stick it inside each car they get into just in case today’s the day, so their DNA is in that vehicle, they do that innately to protect themselves. That tells you something’s wrong with the system,” Anna points out.

She says sex workers are on the street to pay for childcare because their day jobs don’t pay enough to cover the cost of living. Others are working as mother-daughter teams. Some have drug addictions and others have been at it for so long it’s become a familiar cycle.

Anna admits she wonders whether she’s making a difference in the community. After making numerous arrests and handing out countless charges, it’s difficult to see johns simply move over to another stroll. Likening the charges to stealing a chocolate bar, Anna says her team has seen the same john two or three times on two different strolls in one sting operation.

It is improbable that Anna will ever leave the career she gladly dubs her calling. “It’s in me like being a mom to my kids is in me.” She is determined to educate people on the police force and others outside the force based on what she’s seen over the past six years.

“Try asking the girls what they would do tomorrow if they could do anything they like. Ask them. Do you think any one of them would say I want to go out on the street and give blow jobs for money? No, of course not.

“I do my job in the search of truth and justice. Not only for the victims, but for the offenders too.”

She says she may never know if she’s made a difference in a person’s life, but with every battery call she receives or sting operation she’s a part of, the goal is for people to know, even if only for one day, that they might feel a sense of justice and hope came specifically for them.

Thumbnail by Deanna Tucker

dtucker@cjournal.ca