Last month the Toronto Star published a sobering and heart wrenching investigative report on the “dark underbelly of domestic sex trafficking in Ontario.” The report tells a very real story of the johns, pimps, and thousands of victims (93% of whom are Canadian) involved in what is referred to on the streets as “The Game”. Sex trafficking and prostitution, however, is no game. It is a serious problem that despite new laws remains a tragic reality all across Canada, including British Columbia.
Having recently commemorated the 24th National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women on December 6th it is hard to believe that this barbaric and horrific trade not only still exists but has become a thriving industry. According to the Toronto Star some traffickers make up to $280,000 a year. It is a lucrative industry that brings few risks or negative consequences to the men and organized criminals that profit from the abuse and control of the women they pimp.
The University Women’s Club of Vancouver (UWCV), along with the Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), has long advocated for comprehensive research, legislative reform, and effective programs and services to address and abolish the trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation and prostitution. In fact in 2010 the UWCV was the first of the CFUW clubs to initiate advocacy work focused on prostitution. Our Status of Women and Human Rights Committee advocated for Canada to adopt prostitution laws similar to the ‘Nordic model’, which prohibits the purchasing of sexual services, imposes criminal sanctions on the purchasers, pimps, and procurers of sexual services, and decriminalizes prostituted persons (the women in the “Game”). These recommendations were later accepted as a resolution by the Canadian Federation of University Women and then adopted by the national sections of Graduate Women International (GWI) at their triennial conference in Istanbul in 2013. UWCV club members then presented their research, analysis, and resolution in a workshop during the fifty-seventh session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations the same year.
While the new Canadian prostitution laws enacted in 2014 under Bill C-36 embrace our Clubs recommendations by criminalizing the buying of sexual services and decriminalizing the selling of sexual services, consistent enforcement of these laws is not happening, particularly in BC. According to an article in The Georgia Straight the Vancouver Police Department does not consider prostitution as an enforcement priority because it is viewed as a “business of sex between consenting adults”. This belief is detrimental to the health of our communities, to the safety and well-being of girls and women, and ignores the fact that prostitution, at its very root, is a form of violence and exploitation against women. It is an inherently dangerous activity and turning a blind eye and/or enabling its practice only increases the danger to current and future women in prostitution.
It is time that our society see prostitution for what it is – a practice of exploitative inequality. We need to move forward by not only addressing the economic, racial, and social inequities that are at the heart of sexual exploitation but also by ensuring effective enforcement of the criminal laws. These laws are intended to reduce the demand for sexual services, to eliminate the acceptability of purchasing persons for sex, to prevent the introduction of prostitution to young persons, to prevent trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation and to provide real alternatives and services to women and girls to exit prostitution.
Join our Club in the fight against gendered violence. Reach out to city councillors, MLAs, MPs, and local police agencies and let them know that prostitution is a form of violence and exploitation against women that cannot be tolerated and that the laws must be vigorously enforced.