OTTAWA (CCN)—As a battle Canada’s prostitution laws wends its way through the courts, some Christian groups are campaigning to abolish prostitution.
Last year, an Ontario judge struck down Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional, agreeing with the prostitutes who brought the case that the present laws endanger their security of person, forcing them to work on the streets or unable to seek help from police. The decision has been appealed.
“What we have in this window is an opportunity for Parliament to craft better laws that will affirm the dignity and value of all Canadian women,” Evangelical Fellowship of Canada policy analyst Julia Beazley told an information session at an Ottawa church Mar. 1.
Beazley stressed it is not laws that put women in danger. Legalizing and regulating prostitution or decriminalizing it altogether will not protect women, she said. Though some have argued legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution will get women off the streets, it is not the location that endangers them, she said. “It’s the violent johns, pimps and traffickers who prey on them.”
She described prostitution as a “dangerous and tangled web that includes human trafficking, massage parlors, strip clubs and pornography.” Toughening laws against human trafficking will not be enough if prostitution is not addressed, she said.
Conservative MP Joy Smith, who has led Canada’s campaign against human trafficking, said she is urging Canada to adopt the Nordic model to combat prostitution. This model targets the users of prostitution, the johns and the pimps and traffickers and does not further victimize the women or children who are caught in the sex trade. In Canada, though the sale of sex is not illegal, soliciting, pimping and keeping a brothel are.
Sweden pioneered the Nordic model and in the ten years since it was adopted, rates of prostitution have been cut by 50 per cent, Smith said. The country is no longer viewed as a lucrative country for sex trafficking, she added, cutting the numbers of women and children trafficked into the country. Countries such as the Netherlands, which legalized prostitution, have experienced a major upswing in organized crime and trafficking, she said.
“You know that children should not be bought and sold in this country,” she said. But changing the laws is not enough. Women and children leaving the sexual exploitation need help to rehabilitate their lives, she said Changing the laws are only one piece of a national action plan to end trafficking and exploitation of women and children.
“There is no justice in laws that serve mainly to further victimize the victims,” Beazley said. There is not justice in normalizing and legitimizing abuse and exploitation.”
On behalf of the EFC’s Centre for Faith and Public Life, Beazley said prostitution must be unambiguously defined as “a form of violence, abuse and control of vulnerable women and children.”
The EFC is partnering with one of its members organizations, Defend Dignity, an outreach of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
For Defend Dignity founder Glendyne Gerrard, her commitment to end prostitution began as the Holy Spirit began making passages in the Bible concerning justice leap out from the page.
“I realized that God was much more interested in the poor, marginalized and oppressed than I was,” she said. “Show me who it is you want me to show justice to.”
She began to pray the Scripture from 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.”
After moving to Regina, Saskatchewan and volunteering to work at the local food bank, she met her first prostitute.
She also met Trisha Baptie, who was a prostitute in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and who had worked alongside many of mass murderer Robert Pickton’s victims. She invited Baptie to come and speak at a church event. Gerrard said she sat and wept when she heard the stories, especially concerning those of First Nations women. “God had indeed answered my request through Micah 6:8,” she said. She then resolved to do what she could to help and “Defend Dignity was born.”
On a video sponsored by Defend Dignity, Baptie described growing up in a middle class home wracked by domestic violence. By the time she was 13 years old; she “had addiction issues and was volatile.”
She got involved with prostitution through an older boy. For 90 per cent of women in prostitution, “our pimp is our boyfriend,” she said. “It’s only afterwards you realize he didn’t really love you.”
She was lured into prostitution through alcohol and drugs. She spent years on the street, until she was approached by some young women who ministered to the prostitutes on the street. One of them asked her if she would leave the street if there was a way to pay her bills.
At first her answer was no, because she had only a 7th grade education, no bank account, none of the means of survival ordinary people have. She agreed to go to church and heard the message of Jesus dying for her sins and surrendered her life to him. For the next two years, she was surrounded by women who supported her as she made the painful steps to leave the sex trade.
Also on the video, Shona Stewart said she was lured into prostitution through a need for money to support her two children. One day one of her clients asked her to perform a sado-masochistic act. “That time I almost killed him,” she said. “It was eye-opening for me to realize I could have killed someone.”
Her mother was ill and her dying wish was that Shona leave the business. But getting out was not that easy. She had children to support.
Her neighbor, who knew about her lifestyle, invited her to an Alpha Course banquet at the church nearby. Steward decided to go. It was there she met Jesus and her life began to change.
The groups plan to bring Baptie to Parliament Hill later this spring to tell her personal story of how prostitution dehumanizes and degrades women and her journey to freedom.