Amnesty International's Poor Decision

Join the postcard campaign to the Canadian headquarters of Amnesty International.  Let’s put pressure on them to reverse their decision on the legalization of prostitution.  Send us a message if you would like to receive postcards to mail.  We’re hoping thousands of people will send them a postcard.

Human rights. What are they? How do we access them? More importantly, what impedes
one’s ability to live the full life that these rights are meant to afford us?

Basic human rights are things like access to water, food, clothes, housing, education, and
to live free from violence and torture. These, along with 23 other rights, are listed at
un.org/en/documents/udhr.

What happens when someone is denied any of these rights?

Amnesty International (AI) has long been held up as a champion of human rights. AI has
been around for 54 years, with locations around the world.

AI has worked on a diverse range of issues and, as of August 11, 2015, may have made its
biggest policy mistake to date. AI released a policy that recommends the decriminalization of all aspects of prostitution, including pimps, brothel owners, and buyers of sex.

AI does not endorse the Nordic model, which we know works. Evidence shows that the
Nordic model, which criminalizes the demand for paid sex while decriminalizing those
being prostituted, decreases violence and trafficking. Survivors of prostitution, myself
included, know that this model is the best step forward in dealing with prostitution.

"Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances
face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse" (Salil Shetty, Secretary General of
Amnesty International).

What Mr. Shetty has said is true.

Prostituted women and girls are marginalized. They do face violence and abuse. Who is
doing this violence? Who is committing this abuse? These practices do not happen in a
vacuum. Someone perpetrates these atrocious acts and, overwhelmingly, men are the
ones responsible.

It is this behavior that we must be challenging, not normalizing. Falsely, AI claims that
criminalization of any part of the sex industry is a violation of human rights. According to
this line of thinking, using power and finances to pay for sex from women is a man’s human right. According to this line of thinking, men (pimps and brothel owners are also disproportionately men) who sell women have a right to sell them, as if sex can be
broken down to nothing more than a commodity, as if it can be totally separated from
the body being sold. 

Note: I did not say human right, because we know, globally, that the face of the persons
who buy sex are male, and the face of those being sold are female and, more specifically,
poor, brown, young, and female.

Prostitution is the manifestation of the denial of human rights and the granting of
invisible, nonexistent human rights to men.

These so-called rights usually sound something like, “Men need sex. It’s a biological
imperative!” or, “My wife won’t do what I like!”, etc.; these so-called rights cannot be
extrapolated when individuals talk about a genuine human right.

Even the terms “sex worker” and “sex industry” erase the true picture of prostitution:
men buy sex for their own sexual gratification, usually from a woman or girl who has less
power, less money, and unstable housing or immigration status.

These are just some of the daily disadvantages that drive women and girls into
prostitution.

I am astonished that someone could make a statement such as the one made by Mr.
Shetty and then propose that in order to protect the people being marginalized and
abused, to help them, to possibly work towards ending this gendered abuse and
discrimination, those perpetrating this abuse should be decriminalized and legitimated.

Decriminalizing women should be obvious. Women should not face criminal sanctions for
the situations that resulted in their being prostituted.

Women should not be faced with criminal records or negative involvement with the
police because they are being sexually exploited. Likewise, prostitution should not be
seen as a solution to gender-based inequality. Prostitution should not be considered a
solution to poverty, to lack of food, or to any other lack of an actual human right.

A woman or girl should not be required to provide a sexual act in order to access such
rights.

The Nordic model is not just a matter of criminalization. When implemented, first by
Sweden in 1999, it was a three-pronged approach to dealing with prostitution.

One prong was criminalizing the demand for paid sex. The other two prongs were public
education and direct help and prevention for women and girls.

Since criminalizing the purchase of sex in 1999, the number of men who buy sex in
Sweden has significantly dropped, whereas in countries where prostitution is legalized or
decriminalized, we see more men buying sex.

Simon Häggström of the Swedish police notes that in Germany alone, where prostitution
is legal, 1.2 million men buy sex every year.

Melissa Farley, cited by the U.S. State Department, reports that:

  • 89 % of those who are prostituted worldwide want to escape
  • 65% of prostituted persons were sexually abused as children
  • 60% are raped
  • 40% of people trafficked for sex are under 18 (Polaris Group)

Even though prostitution is legal in Nevada, over 80% of the prostitutes interviewed by
Ms. Farley said they wanted out. Five years after prostitution was legalized in Germany,
the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel said that the Family Ministry found “no solid
proof to date” that the legalization had reduced crime and abuse. They also found that
legalization had “not brought about any measurable actual improvement in the social
coverage of prostitutes.”

Why, then, would AI like to keep this form of abuse going? Why would they not want to
reach right to the roots of this injustice and rip them out?

If we want to talk human rights, we have to talk about who is being denied them and who
is benefiting from that denial.

In this case, men benefit, and women and girls are abandoned to a system that rebrands
abuse and neglect as a job.

For more, please see the following links:

PLEASE WRITE AND SEND THE DEFEND DIGNITY POSTCARD TO THE CANADIAN
HEADQUARTERS OF AMNESTY.


Trisha believes that one sexually exploited
woman is one too many, and this exploitation ultimately has dire consequences for entire communities. She founded Honour Consulting & EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) to give women with experience in the sex industry a voice regarding legal and social policy
reforms. Trisha works with a diverse cross
section of non- profit, community, academic, government, grassroots and faith groups presenting to a vast array of audiences on the local, national, and international stage.


A Change of Perspective

If you would have asked me six months ago about the prostitutes in my city, I would have said; "they choose to be a sex trade worker", "they can choose to not be one, if they want", "they are earning a viable income for themselves and their dependents". But if you asked me today it would be a different story.

 My journey to find my place in the fight against human trafficking started with a friend challenging me to read "Invisible Chains" by Benjamin Perrin. Then I volunteered to coordinate a Defend Dignity Forum. A year later I saw a Facebook post about volunteers needed for the Salvation Army Women's Ministry to the women who work on the streets of my city.  That Sunday in church our guest speaker challenged me to put myself in a place where I could love others with whom I would not normally associate, or consider difficult to love.  So I said "YES" and began serving in the VAN MINISTRY.  The Salvation Army Van goes out every evening from 9:00PM to 2:00AM and seeks to serve women with food, practical items, clothing and prayer as an "oasis"  away from the streets!

 At first I was moved by the tears which flowed when you pray with these women. Second, after doing some intentional praying that God would help me set aside my own judgmental attitudes and pre conceived ideas about prostitutes, I learned they are not UNLIKE me! They have suffered losses of loved ones, care about their families, like to look pretty, long to be loved, valued and respected.  Third, I was not prepared to see how raw life is for these women. Mental illness, addiction and the cycle of abuse is at the root of it all. Lastly I realize, as do all the women I now volunteer with, that if I had been born under different circumstances, I too could be on the streets.

 So ask me today about the prostitutes in my city? I would say they are victims which need protection. The only choice they make each day is to survive. They are caught in a cycle which, if they want to get out requires a tremendous amount of support.  The poverty they live in disproves prostitution is a viable income generating business.

 I am on a journey to find my place in this fight, for now, it's helping on the van one Sunday night a month! Praying for the women and the ministry for the other nights!

— Melody

Melody Kilbank is actively involved in her home church Beulah Alliance in Edmonton, Alberta. As a real estate professional for over 10 years she has an appreciation for her city and the people in her community. Previously she was involved in full time pastoral ministry for 20 years. Hobbies include travelling with her husband Brian, baking (especially at Christmas time), photography, and golf.

Rescuing Amy

Sometimes we are guilty of forming stereotypes around the “typical” profile of a young woman or girl that ends up in prostitution…Perhaps from a rough background, family trouble, abuse….We want to believe that we can predict the eventuality of ending up in the sex trade from way off…years in advance.  Perhaps we do this in order to protect ourselves and our thoughts, helping us feel secure that our children, our girls are safe.

Until recently, this was my thinking.  I work hard to keep my kids safe, instill my values into their lives – and because of that, I have believed that this would mean that my children would never, could never, end up in a situation of being bought for sexual purposes by another human being.

But there just is not that kind of security in life.  I don’t want to over-simplify things.  There are multiple factors that can lead to involvement in the sex trade, but still, sometimes we can do our best as parents, but because of a few circumstances that are out of our grasp to control, realities beyond are worst nightmares can happen to our daughters.  I’m realizing that as I read and learn more about the sex trade in Canada.

One story I heard from the police is about a 16 year old  - let’s call her Amy.  Amy was a pretty ordinary girl; decent middle class home, acceptable report cards, never stood out as having any behavioral problems at school…The kind of kid you think is going to make it through adolescence doing alright, come out the other side and take her place as an ordinary citizen as an adult.  Right?  Think again.

Sometime around 14 years old, she met a boy and started dating him.  He used drugs – nothing too hard core, a little marijuana, a little speed now and then.  He introduced Amy to these things too, but it wasn’t that long before he got into harder drugs, started injecting and Amy followed close behind.  When he got into trouble with the law, Amy needed to find money to support her habit.  By this time, she was in a crowd of other girls who were doing the same thing, and they introduced her to a way to make quick money. Amy turned her first trick before she was 15.

Last month, the police and child protective services had to break down a door in order to rescue Amy.  They knew a number of older men were using her for sex, and providing her with drugs.  They found her lying on the floor of the basement of a shooting gallery, unconscious.  She was taken to hospital for dehydration and nutritional depletion.  She is only sixteen, and says that she is too far-gone to be saved and will keep using and prostituting until it kills her.

Her parents stand by, having tried everything and used every resource available to get her help.  How could they have known that one wrong relationship would take them and their daughter into such a nightmare?  I don’t want to think about my two daughters ending up in such a place; what if despite all the time and effort I put into raising them, they take a wrong turn? 
 
If that were my daughter, I would want the law to protect her; I would want to make it so those men couldn’t just use her without consequence despite her wrong choices.  I wouldn’t want society to turn away, and say “too bad” or worse, blame me as a parent.

This has got to be about more than individuals; it has to be about the value we see in each child, each girl and decide together how we want them to be treated.  It is about us standing together to say that those using girls like this need to be prosecuted and brought to justice.  It is not ok in Canadian society to buy another human being.

Shine together and push back the darkness

“The lights go out all around me, one last candle to keep out the night
Then the darkness surrounds me….” Beauty from Ashes by Superchicks

I woke up with these lines from this song in my head.  I went to bed last night thinking about the recent decision by the Supreme Court of Canada to strike down our prostitution laws.  It feels like darkness in our country has just gotten a little bigger.

Marie works with a small organization that helps women exit the sex trade in our city.  We’re friends and we talked yesterday. The atmosphere at their small office was far from the elation shown on TV by the three women who brought this matter to the court.  Marie said she had never seen such sadness and despair.  Women’s tempers were short.  It’s easy to be overwhelmed, to wonder what the point is, to feel like we can’t make any difference.

How is it that the two sides of this issue say that we are fighting for the same thing?  The safety and protection of women, their right to be treated with dignity as citizens of Canada…to me, there is nothing progressive about declaring that it is all right to buy a person in our country, especially when we know that it opens the door for greater human trafficking.  I just don’t see how that is treating them with dignity.

The court noted that though some prostitutes freely choose to engage in prostitution, many have no meaningful choice but to do so.  We know that the numbers support this claim; only about  8 percent of women in the sex trade say that they are there because they want to be.

I’m going to fight for the other 92 percent…the ones that don’t have a choice.  The ones who say they don’t feel like a true citizen of Canada, much less a human being, because circumstances in their lives have forced them into selling their bodies for someone else’s pleasure.  I want to speak up for those ones.

Despite the feeling like the darkness got bigger, a candle is still burning in the night. 

We’ve been given a year; a year to influence the government, a year to rally our cry and let it be heard loud and clear, a year to speak up like we have never spoken before for the women and children’s voices who are silent in this debate, the women who are forced physically or through life circumstances into this way of life. 

I’m just a working mom, busy with the cares of life.  Not particularly politically minded, never been to a protest in my life.

But I have been given a candle – my own…this little light of mine – of my life, my choices, my time, my voice – and I am going to let it shine in the dark of this debate of how we are going to treat women in our country.  I’m not going to let Marie down.  She is on the front lines, and she needs my candle to help hers burn more brightly.

Will you join me?

I believe in hope.  I believe in many little candles shining together and pushing back darkness.

- Guest blog submission by Lori, an average mom of 4 kids who will be exploring the realities of sexual exploitation with Defend Dignity in the coming months.

Uphold the oppressed

 

Psalm 82:2-4  NIV

How long will you defend the unjust
 and show partiality to the wicked?  Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

Prostitution is often referred to as the world’s oldest profession.   Truthfully it is the world’s oldest form of oppression.

Prostituted people in Canada are seen as vulnerable by those who exploit them.   Prostitution is viewed by the average Canadian as a choice women make.  In actuality, 92% of prostituted women in Canada, if given a viable alternative to survive, would leave the ‘business’.   Most prostitutes feel that they have no other option to make ends meet.

Child sexual abuse, poverty, and homelessness are all huge risk factors for this form of exploitation.  If you are an Aboriginal woman in our country, the risk escalates dramatically.

In every way, prostituted people fit the description of those the psalmist tells us to defend.  There are few other groups as stigmatized, marginalized, and oppressed in Canada as prostituted people.  They count on our defense!

Being aware is the first step to “upholding the cause of the poor and oppressed”.

  • How much do you know about the realities of prostitution in your location?
  • Prayerfully ask God how you can be involved in defending dignity.
  • Can you challenge yourself to become more aware of the issue in the next few months?  Check out the Resources tab on this site, www.defenddignity.ca for tools.

Partnership is the only way - Part 2

As promised, my Evangelical Fellowship of Canada partner, Julia Beazley’s presentation at EFC’s PRESIDENT’S DAY, on OCTOBER 18, 2012 follows as a guest blog post.

Good afternoon. I’m really thankful for the opportunity to share with you today about some of the important work we are engaged in at the Centre for Faith and Public Life. I work as a Policy Analyst in our Ottawa office, and in my role there, I get to research, write and speak on issues that relate to poverty and homelessness, prostitution and human trafficking.

Over the last few years, I have become passionately engaged in the challenge of addressing sexual exploitation here in Canada and abroad. The more I study, the more I understand that prostitution is part of a dangerous and tangled web. A web that includes human trafficking, massage parlours, strip clubs and pornography. You simply can’t dig very deeply into any one of these areas without stumbling into the others. In researching and networking, I have also had the amazing privilege of interacting with, and learning from a number of formerly prostituted women. Their experiences, their stories and their voices have helped inform and shape how we approach these issues. But more than that, they have changed me, and inspired a real sense of calling and passion to see things change.

A few years ago, at a President’s day gathering, we presented what Bruce referred to as a ‘green paper’ on prostitution, setting up our positioning on the issue. So just as I begin, I will revisit some of that positioning today.

A central message of the Bible is a call for God’s people to be compassionate, because God has been compassionate to us. In the Old Testament, this is evident in the call to care for the poor, the widow and the orphan. In the New Testament, Jesus calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Our shared belief that God has created all people in His image, and loves each one compels us to both announce and to guard the fundamental dignity of each person. We understand that people should be treated as creatures with inherent worth, and  not as objects or playthings for another’s gratification or profit.

Prostitution exploits the vulnerable, violates human dignity, is an affront to equality between the sexes and is harmful to both the purchased and the purchaser, to communities and to society as a whole. It contributes to violence against women, and perpetuates the exploitation of those who are vulnerable because of economic circumstance, family breakdown, violence or racialization.

Prostitution is dehumanizing. It perpetuates the view that it’s acceptable for women – or for any person – to be considered the sexual property of another, or that it’s acceptable for any person to buy or sell another for any purpose. When we consent to others being treated as objects to be bought or sold as a means of pleasure or profit, we deny their personhood. The very existence of prostitution requires a class of people who are viewed as somehow ‘less than human’, and who are made available for use and abuse by others.

Our response to prostitution must discourage the practice, yes, but must be equally careful not speak or act in ways that further victimize those who are victims of abuse, extreme poverty and exploitation. The love of God calls us to respond to those who are prostituted and exploited with compassion and grace, not with judgment.

I love what the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 58, verse 6: “I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord. Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly. Free those who are abused!”

God also reveals himself throughout the Bible as a God of justice, a God who hates injustice and who sees and hears the suffering of the oppressed. He commands his people to “seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” (Is. 1:17-18)

We are called to seek freedom for those who are held captive, to fight oppression, and to “do justice.” It is from this perspective that we engage on an issue that impacts our “neighbours” who are victims of sexual exploitation and in need of defending, empowerment, protection and compassionate support to find health, wellness and freedom from their circumstances.

We need to look at prevention, at the social conditions that drive individuals to prostitution or make them vulnerable to it. We also need to look at the societal problems that generate the attitudes and market for prostitution in the first place. And we need to come alongside and provide assistance to those who want out.

Prostitution is not, and has never been illegal in Canada. What we have currently is a kind of ‘quasi-criminal’ approach in which prostitution itself is legal, but virtually all activities surrounding it are not.

As you will know, a few years ago, in highly publicized case, three women – a dominatrix and two former prostitutes – challenged three provisions of our Criminal Code in Court, arguing that they violated section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees “life, liberty and security of the person.”

The three provisions in question related to keeping a common bawdy house or brothel, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution. In September 2010, Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court ruled that those three key elements of Canada’s prostitution laws were unconstitutional because they force prostituted women to choose between their freedom and their right to security, as guaranteed under the Charter.

The decision was appealed last summer by the federal and Ontario governments, and the Ontario Court of Appeal released its decision in late March.

Here, briefly is what they ruled. The Court gave the federal government twelve months to reform the Criminal Code provision against prostitutes operating out of brothels, massage parlours and other forms of common bawdy houses, agreeing with the lower court that, as written, it was unconstitutional.

The Court upheld the Communications provision, essentially leaving street prostitution untouched, writing that since the Supreme Court of Canada had ruled on that provision in 1990, it was essentially out of their reach.

And they redrafted the living on the avails of prostitution provision so that it will only apply under circumstances of exploitation, this time giving the government 30 days before the change in law would take effect.

Now all of this was couched in a refrain that echoed throughout the many pages of written decision that “In Canada, prostitution itself is legal. There is no law that prohibits a person from selling sex, and no law that prohibits another from buying it.”

We believe that this repetition sends a clear message to Parliament that if prostitution is to be illegal in Canada, then Parliament will have to rewrite the laws to make them clear, coherent and constitutional.

So where do things stand? The Federal Government has filed for an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, and the case will likely be heard by the Supreme Court sometime in the next year. While we wait, the laws remain in effect in Ontario. It could be another year or two before a final ruling is made on the validity of our laws, and in the meantime, there appears to be some inconsistency in how the existing laws are being enforced across different jurisdictions.

We believe that while this challenge makes its way through the courts, the Canadian government should begin the work of crafting better, more just laws that will affirm the dignity and value of all Canadian women, and effectively combat sexual exploitation and prostitution. It is a defining moment in which they can choose to affirm that, as a nation, we will not tolerate the exploitation of some for the gratification of others.

The EFC does not agree with the Courts’ assertion that it is our laws that put women in danger, but we do agree that the status quo isn’t working. Our laws, as written, neither discourage prostitution nor protect women. I might argue that they don’t even really make sense.

But it’s not the laws that put women in danger. Eliminating them will do nothing to protect the most vulnerable, in fact, it could have the opposite effect, pushing the most desperate and least desirable further to the margins and into greater danger.

Moving prostitution indoors will not make women safer. Because it’s not the women’s location that puts them in danger, it’s the violent johns, pimps and traffickers who prey on them.  A friend of mine who is a survivor of prostitution once told me that there is danger wherever there are closed doors – whether it is behind car doors, hotel doors or home doors, where there is prostitution, there is violence.

So if location isn’t the problem, it’s illogical to think that simply moving prostituted women from one location to another will make them safer.

Complete decriminalization isn’t the answer. But neither is the status quo.

It’s time for Parliament to craft better, more just laws to effectively combat prostitution and sexual exploitation. Our laws should focus on those who exploit. There is no justice in laws that serve mainly to further victimize victims. There is no justice in normalizing and legitimizing abuse and exploitation. And there is simply no sense in trying to stop sex trafficking if we’re not going to take a good look at our prostitution laws.

Over the last year or so, the government has taken some strong positive steps in terms of addressing human trafficking. June, the government introduced The National Action Plan to combat human trafficking. The EFC was pleased to be part of the consultation process that led to its’ development, and it is clear reading through the plan that the stakeholders were heard.

MP Joy Smith’s bill C-310 received royal assent and became law in July 2012. This bill introduced extra-territorial jurisdiction to human trafficking offenses, so that Canadian citizens who offend abroad can be prosecuted here at home for their offences. It also enhanced the definition of exploitation in s. 279 of the Criminal Code by providing additional factors for the Court to consider when determining what constitutes exploitation.  These factors include used or threatened to use force or another form of coercion; used deception; or abused a position of trust, power or authority.

The EFC was actively involved in both of these efforts being realized. But we have consistently maintained that addressing our prostitution laws is a critical piece of the puzzle, because while trafficking of persons is broader than simply for sexual exploitation, most often, prostitution is the end point of human trafficking.

It has been demonstrated in countries where prostitution and brothels have been legalized that when legalization occurs, the sex industry and sex tourism expand, the demand for purchase of sexual services skyrockets, and this drives rates of sex trafficking up. This has been the case in the Netherlands, in Germany, in parts of Australia and in New Zealand, where both legal and illegal brothels are full of foreign women.

We must be unambiguous in defining prostitution as a form of violence, abuse and control of vulnerable women and children. We need to shift the focus of our laws in order to achieve the Criminal Code’s intended objective of preventing prostitution and its associated harms.

So what is the EFC doing to this end?

We will be seeking leave to intervene before the Supreme Court of Canada when the challenge to our prostitution laws is brought to the nation’s highest court. We do not believe our existing laws are adequate or effective, but we will intervene from a position of believing that our existing laws are better than no laws, and must be upheld until Parliament writes better laws; we will argue that to decriminalize would be to fail to protect our women, and that decriminalization would be in direct opposition to the government’s efforts at fighting sex trafficking.

We have been working – and continue to work – in partnership with other organizations in pursuit of reform of Canada’s prostitution laws. The EFC is calling on the government to amend the Criminal Code to implement laws based on the legal and social framework of what is known as the Nordic Model of Law on Prostitution. This model, first enacted in Sweden, recognizes that the vast majority of prostituted persons are victims, and therefore focuses the punitive powers of the law on the purchasers and purveyors of sexual services – the johns, pimps and traffickers, while decriminalizing those who are being sold.

The sex trade operates according to simple market principles of supply and demand. As long as there is a demand for purchase of women’s bodies, there will be pimps, traffickers and organized crime ready and willing to guarantee a supply. Sweden recognized that in order to abolish the sex trade, they would need to focus their efforts on eliminating the demand for purchase of sexual services. They also understood that prostitution and human trafficking are intrinsically linked, with trafficking rings established to feed the demand for paid sex.

Individuals who pay for sex are subject to steep fines. Those who are prostituted are not charged, which facilitates their moving on from prostitution. This model also focuses on social structures and systems to ensure that women who want to exit prostitution have the resources and supports available to them to make this possible. This approach has proven quite successful in dramatically reducing prostitution and trafficking, and has been replicated in Norway, Iceland and is in various stages of consideration in France, Israel and Ireland.

The Swedish model is one of the most coherent and successful prostitution policy models ever developed. The key is its twin legislative objectives of criminalizing the purchaser of sexual services and providing support and resources to prostituted women. Support systems, rehabilitation services, reintegration and education are all critical to ensuring successful exit from prostitution.

It isn’t perfect, and there would be some unique challenges to its implementation in Canada, but it is the most effective, most just model out there.

We are networking, and seeking to build coalition with a range of like-minded groups and organizations, believing that our influence and impact are magnified when joined with others – even when, and maybe particularly when – some of those others are ones you might not expect .

And finally, we are building public awareness, because while changing laws and public policy is an uphill climb, I think perhaps the toughest battle on this front is in dismantling the harmful attitudes and mindsets in our society that create a culture where prostitution is accepted and the demand for it flourishes. How do we reframe this issue in a way that will cause people both inside and outside our church walls to think – and act – differently? How do we convince the church in Canada of the importance of her engagement in this issue – the whole of the issue, beginning with prevention, continuing with all of the ministry in between and including engagement in the public policy process?

A significant part of this work has been done in partnership with Defend Dignity, an amazing ministry of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. It has been my great pleasure and privilege to partner over the last year with my good friend Glendyne Gerrard in educating, informing and calling the church to action. Glendyne’s story personally, and that of Defend Dignity, which she is going to share with you in a few moments, is something I get really excited about. Glendyne and I have become acutely aware as we’ve gotten deeper into this battle that this thing we call sexual exploitation is – if you’ll allow me a bit of liberty – a significant principality in our society. But  within our churches, in our relationships with each other, in the ways we teach our children and engage in our communities, the way we do ministry and with the democratic tools at our disposal, we have all that is needed to begin to dismantle that ugly thing. To see freedom, and justice, and dignity restored and upheld. I trust that as Glendyne shares, your hearts will capture the excitement of what is possible.

Partnership is the best way

 November 2, 2012 by glendyne

One of the greatest joys in my work is to partner with some wonderful people who are working on the same thing as me:   putting an end to the sexual exploitation of women and children in Canada.  Julia Beazley of The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is one of these people.  Julia works as a policy analyst  in Ottawa, championing the needs of marginalized and oppressed people.  However, policy analyst doesn’t tell the full story.  She doesn’t just analyze policies; she is personally involved in the lives of the people she works to help.  Her up close and personal knowledge makes her a great analyst.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) hosts a day every year for the heads of all their partner denominations and organizations.  The day includes presentations on issues that affect evangelicals.  I had the wonderful privilege to present, along with my partner Julia, at this event.  The following was my part of the presentation.  Stay tuned for Julia’s presentation that will follow in this blog.

EFC

October 18, 2012

Thank you to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada for the privilege of standing before you today and for its partnership in this issue.  Since our relationship began a year and a half ago, it has been one of the great joys of my ministry years to work alongside high caliber people like Julia, Don and Bruce on behalf of exploited women and children.

I also say “thank you” to my denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada.  The heritage of our family of churches is one of justice and compassion ministries and I’m grateful for this DNA running through my veins.

I am here today to tell you some of my story, the story of Defend Dignity and ultimately God’s story of his work in delivering the weak and the needy, rescuing them from oppression and violence here in our wonderful country of Canada.

I’m a middle aged, middle class, average woman living on an average street in Regina, SK.   I grew up in a great home, married a wonderful man and have three super kids, all grown and married now themselves.  I was never abused, had all my basic needs met as a child and was given all the opportunities and privileges of a white girl born in Canada.  Maybe except for skin color, I’m probably not unlike many of  you!

So, why have I decided to be involved in the issue of the abolition of prostitution?

My wake up call started about 15 years ago with my own quiet times with Scripture and the Holy Spirit.  Do you ever have those times when it seems as if the words were written just for you?  It often seemed to my eyes that many of the verses to do with justice were marked with a highlighter pen.  They started jumping off the pages right to my heart.  It seemed that God had a whole lot more interest in the poor, marginalized and oppressed than I did.  I knew I needed to change that.  I started to pray Micah 6:8, ….and what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk  humbly with your God.”  asking the Lord to reveal to me who it was he wanted me to show justice and mercy to.

Thinking I had lots to learn, I also started to read more books on justice like Irresistable Revolution by Shane Claiborne,  and The Hole in our Gospel by Richard Stearns.  I started to keep my eyes open for a way that I could get involved in making a difference here in Canada.   One day reading our local newspaper, I saw that our City Food Bank needed volunteers in their front office.  I decided it was time to get my feet wet and put some of my head knowledge into action and   I  figured there would be poor, marginalized and oppressed people at the Food Bank and I was right.  My job at the Food Bank was to register new clients and though it was not required, often they would pour out their stories of how they ended up needing our services.  It was there I met a prostitute for the first time.  I remember being surprised that she looked like any of the other many women who came through our doors.  I also remember being displeased with the other workers who were whispering about her as she walked away.  She was simply a woman in need.

Fast forward a couple years later, and I knew that I had to use all my influence – however small it was – to make a difference beyond just volunteering at the Food Bank.  At the same time this was going on with me, our C&MA family of churches was being called back to our roots of justice and compassion ministries and all of us in leadership were being encouraged to get involved in a justice issue.  All this time, I kept praying Micah 6:8 still feeling like there was more God was wanting of me.

Then I met Trisha Baptie through a mutual pastor friend in BC.  Trish is a former prostitute from Vancouver’s DTES with a winsome personality and an incredible story of tragedy and triumph.  Trisha worked with many of Robert Pickton’s victims.  You don’t hang around Trisha for long before you’re compelled to consider the realities around prostitution in Canada.

As I read through reports and stories she sent me, especially as they related to First Nations women, the Spirit convicted me personally that as a leader within our denomination this was an issue I needed to get involved in, that our Alliance churches needed to get involved in and Defend Dignity was birthed.

God had answered my prayer in response to Micah 6:8.  This is who I was to show justice and mercy to.  Be a voice for the women in prostitution here in Canada.

Psalm 82:3,4 says,

Defend the weak and the fatherless;

uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Rescue the weak and the needy;

deliver them from the hand of the wicked

A few weeks ago, I was standing on a street corner in my city of Regina in the neighborhood called North Central, talking to a young, cold, and hungry woman.    She was hoping to sell herself that night in order to make enough money to return to the city she came from to see her children again.   She had been robbed and the only recourse she felt she had to earn money was to sell herself.

After buying her dinner and hearing more of her story, I pled with her not to return to the street corner but allow us to drive her to the home she was staying in, praying with her before we dropped her off.

While a meal, a hug, a prayer and a ride home are something, it really felt like I was applying a tiny bandaid to a case of terminal cancer.

How is it that only 15 minutes away from my front door in a comfortable neighborhood, a woman sees herself as a commodity to be bought and sold because she has no other option?  How is it that our laws in Canada on this issue do not protect the most vulnerable and marginalized?  How is it that the global issue of human trafficking is gaining air time in our churches, but the same issue here in our own country receives little attention from evangelicals?

Part of my work to raise awareness in our churches across the country is to network with as many leaders of non profit organizations, researchers and government personnel working on the issue as I can.  These front line workers and educators are invited to participate in the Information Forums we are hosting in churches.  Defend Dignity has built bridges to these people in every province except the Atlantic region so far.  A few weeks ago in Winnipeg, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon with Diane Redsky who is the Project Chair for the Canadian Women’s Foundation’s Task Force on Human Trafficking and Prostitution in Canada.  I sat on the edge of my seat as she listed off the members of the task force, hoping I would hear the name of a church or faith based group that would be at that table.  It saddens me that I didn’t.  You see, I believe – and I know you do too – that Jesus is the hope of the world and the Church, empowered by the Spirit, is sent to penetrate the dark places.  We need to be part of the solution.

I am so grateful for the favor God is giving us as we dialogue with stake holders on the issue.  I am working with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, having met with the interim provincial Chief and the head of their Women’s Commission.  They seem eager to partner with us as they are fully aware of the magnitude of the problem with their women and children being the most victimized.

On October 30, I will have a meeting with the MB Justice Minister, a man who has championed the needs of sexually exploited women and children in his province.

These meetings and those we have had in partnership with EFC in Ottawa with MPs from different Parties are bringing good results.  As church people hear of this work, they are becoming engaged by writing letters and visiting their MPs and considering ways they can be part of the solution in their communities.

The Information Forums we host provide opportunities for people to actually write letters to their MPs at the end of the evening.  One of the MPs we met with on Parliament Hill in March admitted he was uninformed about prostitution realities and our laws until meeting with some of our Alliance people in his constituency office and then with us in his Ottawa office.  He has become convinced that Canada needs law reform and actually stood to his feet at the parliamentary breakfast hosted by Defend Dignity and EFC a few months later and encouraged his colleagues to get on board.   Our work of raising awareness in our churches is working.

Here’s our latest in a series of videos.   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Wwlsm7V-RY&feature=player_embedded. This one is about the Forums.

The Forums are gaining support and we hope you & the denomination that you represent can attend one of these Forums in the coming year.

We are currently producing a church tool kit which will provide further means to educate and engage our churches.

My prayer is that the evangelical organizations represented in the room today will join us in defending the dignity of every woman and child in Canada.  If we hope to convince parliament that Canada needs prostitution law reform, we need all of us to get involved.  The videos, website and all the resources we’ve produced are yours for the taking and using.  We have purposely made them as generic as possible so that people outside the C&MA can find them useful.

In my husband’s role as District Superintendent for our part of Canada, we get to travel to some faraway places like Nunavut way up north.  The 2nd largest town in Nunavut is Arviat, right on the shores of Hudson Bay where we have a growing Alliance congregation.   You can only fly, snowmobile, or dog sled into this community or when the ice is out for a few months of the year, take a barge.  It is a trip I will not soon forget. Visiting this church 2 years ago, I met one of many women in this town who are prostituted by family members.   You were introduced to her in the video you just saw by the name of Sarah.

Joanne and her sister, Sarah come from a poverty stricken home.  Joanne was taken from her parents earlier in her life by her grandmother, but Sarah lived with her mom and dad.  When her dad needed money, Sarah would be offered to people over the local CB radio.  People would pay for her to have sex with them, and her father would take the money.  Now that the father is dead, Joanne and Sarah’s younger brother has carried on the family tradition.  He sells his sisters over the local radio and if they refuse he gets angry and yells at them until they comply. Sarah had her new house destroyed by this brother.  Sarah and Joanne keep part of the money, but most of it still goes to their brother.

These stories and so many more like them call out to us as Christ followers.   Who will stand up for what is right if we don’t?  They call out to us as the church.  We cannot walk away.   Who will stand up for what is right if we don’t?  Would you consider what your denomination can do?  Will you join me and defend the dignity of the least of these?

Canada’s adult entertainment wages war on our youth

I am very grateful for the growing number of male colleagues that are joining in the fight to defend dignity.  Chris Smith, pastor of the Estevan Alliance Church in Saskatchewan and excellent communicator has this to say today in this guest blog which he gave me permission to post.  You can check out his blog here.

I have seen the monster and he is me

A couple of weeks ago a story broke in the media about a particularly offensive response to new government legislation aimed at curbing human trafficking in Canada. Apparently the gist of the story was that the government of Canada was no longer going to be extending visas for foreign workers entering into the adult entertainment industry (i.e. strippers, escorts, adult film actors, and (unofficially) prostitutes. The official reason given was that, “Canadians have told us they want us to put a stop to foreign workers entering Canada to work in businesses where there are reasonable grounds to suspect a risk of sexual exploitation,” wrote Alexis Pavlich, spokesperson for the ministry of citizenship and immigration.
You can read up on the story in multiple news outlets – a quick Google search of AEAC recruitment visa will pull up pages of news articles on what’s been happening. The article that caught my attention was this one from Canada.com.
In reaction to the legislation that aims to curb their questionably legal source of labour, Tim Lambrinos, executive director of the Adult Entertainment Association of Canada, responded by saying that they would be approaching foreign college and university students on student visas to fill the positions – advertising it as a great way to pay for tuition. His rationale was that ‘Exotic Dancer’ implies foreign – and that the market demanded beautiful foreign girls take off their clothes and dance on poles for men. It was then that the other shoe dropped. It was also revealed by the minister of citizenship of immigration that the adult entertainment sector would no longer be able to recruit any temporary foreign workers to work in their industry; citing statistics that demonstrate that perpetrators of human trafficking frequently lure young women away from home with promises of more germane employment only to trap them into the sex industry through a conflation of drugs, abuse and debt-slavery – an example being the story of Timea Nagy which is chronicled in this article in CNEWS on July 5.  Timea was lured to Canada with the promise of a summer job as a nanny – but when she arrived in Toronto she was informed that she owed her employer $3000 for travel expenses and would be forced to work off the debt as a stripper and sex worker (prostitute) or they would kill her family back home.
As shocking as this all is – so far this has all been set-up for the bombshell that was dropped last week. Growing increasingly frustrated with the government making it hard for them to do business, Mr. Lambrinos indicated that the AEAC would have no choice then, given the restraints placed upon them, to start recruiting workers for his industry at Canadian high school job fairs. Deliberately stoking the flames of public outrage he mused in the media,
“We’re reacting to the government … They’re saying we’re going to strip you of your workforce… The government is saying, indirectly, you need to get more aggressive and more proactive at recruiting locally… We’re not going to take it lying down.”
And with that shot across the bow the internet erupted in a mix of outrage and absurdity. Every reaction you could imagine started popping up in comment sections at the bottom of news articles, in Facebook discussions, in op-ed pieces sent into newspapers and in the blogosphere. Some thought that the government had gone too far in depriving the foreign workers of the protection that comes from a perpetually renewed visa, some thought that the AEAC had gone too far in talking about recruiting in high schools (keeping in mind of course that less than half of high school students will be 18 years old by the time they graduate across Canada) – but the most commonly heard type of comment of all was a variation on the theme, “If you come near my daughter I’ll kill you!
Now I would venture a guess that very few commenters meant that literally – this is Canada after all, we don’t generally behave that way – but the sentiment behind the puffed up rhetoric was frighteningly genuine. As a father now of a beautiful baby girl I cannot deny that my adrenaline started pumping at the thought of someone trying to recruit my little princess into the adult entertainment industry; how dare anyone treat her like that, how dare anyone expect that she is a commodity to be used and discarded for their perverted sense of pleasure. She is my daughter. She is precious, and perfect and worth far more than that. And I like all the other fathers imagining the consequences of that statement by the AEAC (and of course mothers too) was ready to cry for blood and ready to support any measures possible to keep these sickos away from our young women. After all, what sort of horrible person would subject our young women to this sort of predatory industry that uses them up and spits them out? What sort of person would stand by and do nothing while these women are recruited into a life of slavery (which is not too harsh a word – do some research on what happens to many of the women in this industry defenddignity.ca is a great place to start) while we stand on the sidelines and do nothing because they are pursuing a ‘legal’ career choice and the free-market needs their services?
The answer to that question was staring me in the mirror – it was me.
It was me, and you, and the overwhelming majority of Canadians who have turned a blind eye to the horrors of the sex trade in Canada for too long. It was we, who chose not to notice or respond when evidence of horrible crimes in human trafficking was brought to the media’s attention. It was we who didn’t seem to care when the news story was about foreign women being recruited into the adult entertainment industry but who became an angry mob complete with pitch-forks and torches when the spectre of our daughters being the next generation of strippers was raised. We are the guilty ones – and our anger and outrage at this publicity stunt by the AEAC betrays us.
God forgive us for so dehumanizing these women that we couldn’t muster the anger to rise to their defence when our society’s depravity was stealing away their youth, their innocence and their future. God forgive us for considering ourselves so much more important than them, and our daughters so much more precious than them. Every woman is someone’s daughter; every girl dancing on a pole, every teenager forced into prostitution, every young woman who is compelled – by violence, debt, drug-addiction or a lifetime of abuse and neglect – to take off her clothes so some man can dehumanize her with his eyes is someone’s daughter.  God forgive me for not doing anything to stop this.
I’m honestly shaken and disturbed by this self-realization and so today is just about me getting this off my chest. I’ve no applications for you today – no pithy three-step plans to make a difference – just a request that we stop living in ignorance. The world is a terribly messed up place – just because we can keep it out of our backyards doesn’t mean we aren’t responsible for what happens behind the fence.
Just my thoughts,
Chris

One by One

One by one by one.  That’s what it is going to take to win this.  We have to influence more people to get involved, even if it means just one at a time.  But, no one will get involved unless they are aware, unless they know about the realities faced by so many women, women in their own back yards in Canada.

That’s why I get up when the sky is still dark to fly on airplanes that leave way too early in the morning and get home way too late at night.   That’s why many people who are already way too busy volunteer even more in cities all across our country.  That’s why we host Forums to provide the public with facts on the issue of prostitution in Canada.


Networking in Edmonton

Edmonton Forum, May 11 

York Police Detective Sargeant Henry DeRuiterThese Forums bring together a wide variety of people that are not often in the same room at the same time.  People who live and do life differently but on this one issue, they put aside all else and come together to inform and influence.  Law enforcers,  politicians,  front line workers, formerly exploited, pastors, analysts and learners.  They speak, they answer questions, they advise and they network.   All working to end this.  To abolish prostitution in Canada.

Panel of ‘experts’

If you would like to see a Forum in your city, let us know.  We do most of the work.  You just come ready to learn how you can get involved in defending dignity for every woman in Canada.  Oh, and bring someone with you.

Does it Work?

I’ve been encouraging, informing and even coaxing people to get involved in defending the dignity of every woman in Canada, especially those that cannot defend themselves.  One of the best ways to get involved is by doing something all of us have done at some point in our lives – write a letter.  Even little children write letters – maybe just to Santa Claus or to their Mommy on her birthday, but everyone has done it.  It’s an easy method of communication.  Now with the advent of computers and emails, it means our letters reach their destinations sooner, but it hasn’t changed what we say in our letters.  Letters are a great way to convey our thoughts, our questions, our emotions, our challenges.  And, once they are written down, they are here to stay – unless the receiver chooses to throw them away.  They become a record.

Would you sit down today and write a letter – yes, the old fashioned way – hand written?  And, yes, send it by Canada Post, even though it’s slower than email.  Would you put a stamp on the permanent record of what you think about Canada’s prostitution laws and the women we need to defend?

Your letter could change a life or two or maybe thousands.  Our government leaders need to know that average people like you and me want our prostitution laws changed.  They need to hear why they need changing and what they need to be changed to.  I’ll even make it simple for you.  Here’s a template you can use to help you formulate your words.

MP LETTER TEMPLATE 

FIND YOUR MP

Does it work? 

I had the privilege of being on Parliament Hill in several offices of our Members of Parliament this past week.  One of those MPs has many engaged people in their riding that have sent copious letters advocating for the changes Canada needs.  His staff commented that “he realizes this is an issue he needs to pay attention to” because he sees that it matters to his constituents.  I left that office with a huge smile on my face. 

 Letters work!