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.