Joy Smith: Canada must target the buyers of sex

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      Joy Smith, the Conservative MP for Kildonan-St. Paul, issued the following statement today (December 20) in response to the Supreme Court ruling on prostitution laws:

      The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Criminal Code offences around prostitution are unconstitutional. This ruling leaves police without important legal tools to tackle sex trafficking and organized crime and does not reflect a 1990 Supreme Court of Canada decision which stated that the elimination of prostitution through law was a valid goal.

      Despite this ruling, the debate around prostitution is hardly settled. There are those who wish to legalize and normalize the industry, those who wish to criminalize all aspects of the industry, and finally those, like myself, who recognize prostitution as an industry that is inherently harmful to women and girls and therefore must be eliminated.

      I am convinced that the most effective route to tackling prostitution and sex trafficking is to address the demand for commercial sex by targeting the buyers of sex. Countries that have legalized and regulated have seen sexual exploitation, human trafficking and violence towards women and girls increase drastically. In fact, a 2012 comprehensive  study of a cross section of up to 150 counties revealed that legalizing prostitution increased sex trafficking. In contrast, countries like Sweden and Norway, which have adopted the Nordic model of prostitution, have seen a significant decrease in prostitution and sex trafficking.

      The Nordic model of prostitution is effective due to its three approaches: explicitly criminalizing the purchase of sexual services, a national awareness campaign to educate the public that the purchase of sexual services is harmful to women, and finally strong support programs for those who seek to exit prostitution.

      Many police services across Canada have already shifted to policing models reflecting the Nordic model approach that women, girls and vulnerable populations are victimized and profoundly harmed by prostitution. The Toronto Police Service, Canada’s largest municipal force, mandates their Sex Crimes Unit Special Victims Section to recognize ‘sex workers as victims first.’ Vancouver Police Department’s Counter Exploitation Unit acknowledges ‘that Aboriginal women are over-represented’ among prostituted women and focuses on assisting ‘young people escape from the sex trade.’ The Winnipeg Police Service’s new Counter Exploitation Unit has also adopted ‘victim first’ driven investigations.

      The harm caused by prostitution to women, girls and vulnerable populations has been well documented by women’s and First Nations organizations. During the June 13, 2013 Supreme Court of Canada hearings, the majority of interveners that were directly opposed to legalizing and regulating prostitution represented women’s organizations such as Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Native Women's Association of Canada, and Vancouver Rape Relief Society. These organizations presented compelling evidence to the Supreme Court of Canada that legalizing prostitution would place women, girls and vulnerable populations at much greater risk of exploitation. 

      Even the buyers of sex recognize the harm caused by prostitution to women. A 2012 Canadian study on the buyers of sex called Buyer Beware, found that of the 20 men interviewed, 8 of the men indicated that they acknowledged that women were most harmed by their act of buying sex and another 10 of the men felt both the woman and the buyer were harmed. Result – 90% of the men who bought sex recognized the women involved in prostitution were harmed by act of prostitution. The same study revealed that all 20 sex buyers would warn a first time sex buyer against engaging in prostitution due to the harm caused.

      Prostitution must be eliminated because it dehumanizes and degrades humans and reduces them to a commodity to be bought and sold. Legalizing prostitution is a direct attack on the fundamental rights and freedoms of women, girls and vulnerable people. In the same regard, continuing to criminalize the women and vulnerable populations being prostituted creates barriers that prevent them from escaping prostitution and entrenches inequality.

      Let’s be clear: those who advocate either approach ignore mounting empirical evidence and will find themselves on the wrong side of history and women’s equality. 

      As a nation, we must ensure pimps remain severely sanctioned and prostituted women and girls are not criminalized and instead given meaningful escape routes out of sex work. Most importantly, Canada must focus on the real root of prostitution by targeting the buyers of sex.




      Dec 20, 2013 at 10:43am

      On what planet do we think interview data from 20 buyers represents the voices of the many people who pay for sexual services across Canada. Why no mention of the 1000+ buyers surveyed in the 2009 Johns' Voice study? Or the more recent 2013 Sex, Safety and Security study? Or the nationwide Understanding Sex Work study? If we are going to base our arguments in numbers and percentages, let's do a little better than emphasizing 90% of 20 people!


      Dec 20, 2013 at 10:49am

      The Supreme Court has declared women should be free to sell sexual services. If we want the sex trade to stop we need to find other avenues to do so. This means attempting to criminalize the buying of sexual services won't work. It doesn't make sense to make on part of a commercial transaction legal and the other illegal.

      So the next step is look outside the exchange of sex and money for a different solution, one that gets at the reason this exchange happens in the first place. I live in East Van and I see hookers on a corner less than 100m from my house nearly every day. It's plain every single one them is an addict and is using sexual services to support a drug habit. Criminalization of addiction is not a solution but counselling and support for quitting are, as is re-training for a real career. A 14 year old who runs away from an abusive home is a prime candidate for this lifestyle and needs better opportunities than being preyed upon by pimps and johns.

      The best solution avoids the issues of rights and legalities altogether and focusses on ensuring there are better ways of making a living than the sex trade if you are an uneducated woman without life skills.

      Norm Hamilton

      Dec 20, 2013 at 11:04am

      When comments like, "Countries that have legalized and regulated have seen sexual exploitation, human trafficking and violence towards women and girls increase drastically." are made it would add to the credibility if the writer would take the time to cite her sources. This article comes across as just more Harper rhetoric.

      Alan Layton

      Dec 20, 2013 at 11:57am

      I agree with Speedo that for many of the women they are treating an addiction and we should be putting money in to helping them find other ways of making money. The big problem is that there are few jobs they would qualify for that would pay a minimum of $100/hr. Addiction, mental illness and emotional trauma are the root causes for many, so treating them will certainly help. However there are others prostitutes who consider it a serious profession and are not addicts or traumatized and they should be allowed to develop their careers like anybody else. Not all women view it as dehumanizing and some even day it's empowering because they are in control.

      Grey Zone

      Dec 20, 2013 at 12:01pm

      What about all the (usually but not always gay) men who prostitute either from choice or financial desperation? Prostitution laws target they and their clients unfairly too.

      Mike Lavigne

      Dec 20, 2013 at 12:15pm

      We are never ever going to stop prostitution. Full Stop. Instead of coming up with laws that help protect those who work as sex workers , this government chooses to vilify them and pass draconian legislation that puts them all in danger. Instead of looking for and finding a balance within society that would limit the need of so many turning to prostitution , this government would rather send them to jail and investigate violence against them , due to the government's refusal to comes to terms with their own failures. Is allowing a group of people their constitutional rights only viable if the government's ideology is protected. It seems to always be about vengeance with the conservatives. They enact laws to create criminals and then sit on their perch and judge and condemn. Some choose this way of life out of necessity as a direct result of government policies. With cutbacks in education , training , social services , jobs , and no investment for the citizens of this country , are we surprised. Passing laws that would continue to persecute and turn a blind eye to safety is paramount to what the pimps are already doing. This government , and certainly no conservation , has the right to proclaim that sex workers are not subject to same rights and freedoms under the constitution as the rest of us.

      Ian Coutts

      Dec 20, 2013 at 12:30pm

      Ms. Smith's arguments are so full of holes it's hard to know where to begin describing them.

      Firstly, the court's ruling does not remove any tools from police. Instead it removes the need for sex-trade workers to hide from police, and allows them to be protected by police.

      Secondly, no matter how convinced Ms. Smith may be that prostitution should be eliminated it cannot be accomplished. No society has ever been successful in doing so. Give up that goal and deal with the reality.

      Thirdly, studies undertaken given the current laws cannot possibly reflect the potential realities under different laws. The intention of the Supreme Court's decision, and of all lower courts, is to reduce these harmful effects.

      Fourthly, pimping, and other forms of exploitation, will remain illegal as they should. Conflation of the court's ruling with sanctioning of pimping is entirely invalid.

      Dean Esmay

      Dec 20, 2013 at 12:44pm

      I see. So we arrest men, but not women. This, apparently, is "equality."

      Of course there are male prostitutes, but why do I see few women being arrested for using boys and young men working as prostitutes? Maybe I'm just cynical.


      Dec 20, 2013 at 12:59pm

      Typical conservation logic. According to Ms. Smith's logic , way wouldn't we extrapolate this thinking to all bars and restaurants that sell alcohol and arrest and prosecute anyone seeking a drink. She just doesn't get it. Its about safety and rights and freedoms.


      Dec 20, 2013 at 1:39pm

      Clearly the solution to the problem of commercial sex is free sex.