Vancouver Rape Relief “troubled” by Supreme Court prostitution ruling

Spokesperson Hilla Kerner hopes landmark judgment doesn't lead to legalization of sex work

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      For Hilla Kerner, it was a relief to hear that the Supreme Court had declared three of Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional.

      But Kerner, a spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, told the Georgia Straight she was “troubled” by the landmark judgment released today (December 20), which struck down laws against keeping a bawdy‑house, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public for the purposes of selling sex. The country’s highest court gave Parliament one year to decide how to regulate prostitution.

      “Women should not be punished for being in prostitution,” Kerner said by phone. “But we’re very worried by this ruling, unless there will be a new law—a better law—because it’s obvious that the current laws were not useful and not protective of women and, of course, not being upheld by the criminal justice system. But until then we are worried that men will basically now have permission to buy women’s bodies, to exploit women’s bodies, and to profit from women’s bodies.”

      Kerner explained that Rape Relief supports the abolition of prostitution but opposes the criminalization of women in the sex trade. She called on MPs to come up with legislation that would criminalize male buyers of sex while offering “real opportunities” to women so they can exit the sex trade or avoid entering it in the first place. Such solutions include providing a guaranteed livable income and higher welfare rates, according to Kerner.

      “Any parliamentarian who cares for women should support a law that on one hand prevents men from buying women and prevents men from pimping women, but on the other hand ensures women’s economic security, so they will not have to resort to prostitution,” Kerner said.

      Earlier today, sex worker and advocate Susan Davis told the Straight that she would prefer to see the federal government not make any new laws on prostitution. She also spoke out against the Nordic model, which targets clients by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and is used in Sweden.

      “Kidnapping is illegal,” Davis said by phone from Vancouver. “Extortion is illegal. Unlawful confinement is illegal. Assault, rape, even human trafficking is specifically illegal. Why do we need two sets of laws to protect people?”

      However, Kerner asserted that Vancouver’s “harm reduction” approach isn’t working and that Canada should look at models like Sweden’s. Her views are informed by years of working at Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre, which gets hundreds of calls every year from sex workers. She said she’s never met a woman who “willingly chooses” to work in the sex trade.

      “I know some women will say it’s their choice,” Kerner said. “But I think that women who have a choice, they have a responsibility to choose something else. For the choice of the few, it will be a terrible mistake to sacrifice the many.”

      As for the three prostitution laws that will become invalid in one year, Kerner explained that, on paper, they applied to both women and men. In practice, she noted, the laws were mostly enforced on women in the sex trade, who were harassed, arrested, and charged.

      “The laws, to begin with, were problematic, because they did not differentiate between the women in prostitution and the men,” Kerner said. “But the application of the law was completely wrong. That’s how [serial killer Robert] Pickton was able to happen. Women were discouraged from complaining to the police. They were threatened and harassed and ignored. On the other hand, men like Pickton and other johns were allowed to walk free and keep continuing the violence.”



      Former Sex Trade Worker

      Dec 20, 2013 at 11:42pm

      That woman from the rape clinic is either a bold-faced liar or ridiculously ignorant when she says she's "never" seen a sex trade worker who isn't a victim of coercion into the industry. Either way, she's just proven that the women who are forced to work on the streets and are forced by pimps are more likely to be raped than those who willingly choose to work in the sex trade and in the safety of a secure in-call location!

      I was a sex trade worker for 2.5 years. The industry I saw was shady due to the horribly suppressive laws! Still, I met MANY wonderful women who willingly worked as escorts and quite a few who actually said they enjoyed the liberation it gave them to work for themselves (and earn a good wage doing it)!

      That some people actually think they're helping every sex-trade worker, by forcing them to work outside (instead of safely indoors) and by making laws that hide certain parts of the industry from sight, just flabbergasts me! Are they kidding?! You don't have the right to bitch about a broken system while refusing to support it being given proper regulation! These delusional nitwits are too busy pretending that prostitution shouldn't even exist that they don't even seem to care that it is the sex workers THEMSELVES asking for the laws to be changed!

      You bleeding heart, hyper-moralistic egotists need to get over yourselves! Stop wasting everyone's goddamn time pretending like every prostitute needs you to ride in on your white horse to save them and start focusing your attention on helping the ones who actually do need the saving! And, let me tell you! You sure as Hell aren't "saving" them by making it more frightening for them to come forward and impossible for them to find legally regulated alternatives (where they won't get beaten by a pimp).

      Smarten up, Conservatives! The Age of Ignorance is over. You lose simply because you're ignorant about a complex subject that you have the audacity to pretend to know everything about. Hyper-moralistic egotists, indeed...

      Hilla Kerner

      Dec 21, 2013 at 9:54am

      To clarify - the relief I feel (the first sentence in the article) is about striking down the laws as they apply to women in prostitution. I am extremely worried about striking down the laws completely without differentiating between the women in prostitution and the jones and the pimps. As intervener, we argued to the Supreme Court that the extraordinary level of danger that women in prostitution face comes from johns, brothel owners, pimps and profiteers who enforce and demand male sexual access to women’s bodies. The decriminalization of these men will not protect prostituted women."

      Rick in Richmond

      Dec 21, 2013 at 10:43am

      The writer "Former Sex Trade Worker" begins with euphemism and ends with delusion.

      She uses the term 'sex worker' as if it were an occupation like electrical worker, or social worker. This Orwellian language is intended to disguise reality, and to sanitize brutality. Her political Newspeak changes nothing, in fact. She is trying to rationalize prostitution.

      For the 99% of prostitutes, especially in the DTES, it is a life of drug addiction, exploitation and violence. Their lives cannot be glamorized. Their suffering cannot be rationalized.

      A simple question. How many people like 'Former' would want their daughters to enter their 'profession'? I suspect that the answer is near-zero, and for deeply human reasons. Women like Hilla Kerner and her colleagues take the same view, and for deeply compassionate reasons.

      The 1% in prostitution may well choose to fend for themselves, and rationalize their life choices. Public concern is for the 99% who wander the DTES risking disease, desperate to sustain addiction, and wanting more than anything else a way out.

      'Formerly' may not care about their suffering. Thank God that the Womens' Shelter and Rape Relief do care. They offer hope and escape. 'Formerly' offers cliché and excuses.

      Erin Graham

      Dec 21, 2013 at 2:03pm

      "former", there is no need to resort to ad hominem (er, 'ad feminem, in this case) argument here. Hilla is neither lying nor delusional when she says she has never met anyone engaged in prostitution who chose it. The women who work in the shelters, transition houses, drop-in centres and rape crisis centres meet and work with women every day who are engaged in some aspect of the prostitution industry, and not one of them, even those who say there are enjoyable aspects, would have chosen it had other choices been available to them. And even if there are some who do choose it, it's unethical to promote their right to choose this at the expense of the majority who are pushed to it. Anyway, why are you not addressing the men who insist on their "right" to buy sex? It is not the law who harass, insult, threaten, beat, rape and kill women --it is men, and the men who pay for sex often believe they are also paying for their right to further degrade the women giving (sorry. "selling") them blowjobs. C'mon, "formerly", why are you willing to settle for SO LITTLE for yourself and all those wonderful women you speak of? Surely you and they deserve a greater range of options for income from which to chose. Ms. Kerner and the other front-line workers are committed to achieving more -- better welfare rates (at least), adequate, safe housing, educational opportunities, detox and treatment, community bonds, meaningful work -- you know, basics that are currently denied many women (and i dare say, denied most in prostitution). Why are you not stepping beside them? You have nothing to lose, and much to gain. Or, you could get out of the way, that would be fine, too.


      Dec 21, 2013 at 2:35pm

      I have been a sex worker for 13 years. I chose the job from a limited number of options and it improved my situation immensely. I want to keep my job and my clients.

      I put my ads out. I solicit clients and I make money from them. I guarantee you that no actual sex worker wants to lose her clients or have them charged, simply for being clients....but the self appointed saviours don't care we want.

      I have no problem charging people who are abusive but charging clients for existing because you are a prostitution prohibitionist only serves your ideology at my expense.

      Stop interfering in our lives going against everything we want, under the guise of helping us. Your hurting us. Stop it.

      james green

      Dec 21, 2013 at 3:00pm

      It is a shock that the court and some MPs support the illness of men who buy sex. We need to work to end this form of slavery. Any woman who is a prostitute needs all levels of assistance to get out. Selling or buying a human being's body is sad and shows many men still see woman as sex objects. Slavery and aparthied have been abolished and now we who believe in democracy and freedom must work to end this another form of allowing men to continue their dominance and dehumanization of women. We can ensure the safety of prostitutes by jailing johns, madames and pimps and any men who buy sex. Women will not be free until this practice ends.16 hours ago · Like · 1..

      My 2 cents worth

      Dec 21, 2013 at 4:04pm

      <blockquote>“I know some women will say it’s their choice,” Kerner said. “But I think that women who have a choice, they have a responsibility to choose something else. For the choice of the few, it will be a terrible mistake to sacrifice the many.”</blockquote>
      So she is in favour of removing the "informed consent" choice of women that choose to work in the sex trade instead of being exploited in any of the multitude other industries that exploit their workers?

      That says all that needs to be said about how much I value her further input.

      I also agree with Ms Davis, who stated that most of the things that are wrong about how prostitution is mostly carried out are already covered by other laws; let's just enforce those.

      If the cons do make a new law, I do hope it covers nothing more than "3rd parties living off the avails of prostitution" as that ought to allow women maximum choice while criminalizing pimps.

      How that affects "madams", well - let them take on customers too, then they'd be exempt.

      PS Why is there no "Preview" button GS? Come on.

      Norma Jean Almodovar

      Dec 21, 2013 at 11:00pm

      Perhaps these nice ladies who think sex workers are victims of evil pimps and johns think it is better for us to be raped and extorted by law enforcement agents who use the laws which prohibit our work to rape us? In all the thousands of years that moral busybodies have tried to exterminate us, and in many cases HAVE murdered us, prostitution has never been 'abolished' and never will be, and if these ladies and gentlemen negatively commenting here on us and our work would take their heads out of their arses and join us in the real world where the rest of us live, they would know that.

      Thousands of years of attempting to cure homosexuality, subjecting those who would not be cured to the most cruel and inhumane treatment, did not 'abolish' it. That anyone could be so foolish as to believe that prostitution would ever be abolished regardless of what threats and punishment you and your delusional abolitionists decide to inflict on us, shows that you do not care one bit about OUR well being. This is a crusade born not of concern for anyone other than you folks with a savior complex, demanding that other women either do as you tell us to do or suffer the consequences.

      You talk about johns and pimps 'controlling' us, but it is you who wish to control our bodies, to silence us, to keep us in our place. We see through your lies and we do not accept what you do to us. You want to help women? Go out and help the millions of women who are victims of domestic violence, whose husbands use them as whipping posts and rape them in the sanctity of their home and within a 'good' Christian marriage, with your blessing and approval. Do you think that your daughters grow up wanting to be beaten and abused by the man who is supposed to love them and is the father of their children? James, you speak of slavery, but what of those wives who are kept locked up, forced to cook and clean and have sex with a man who comes home from work drunk, mean and angry? Shall we abolish marriage to rescue those poor wives? How dare you claim we are slaves and take away our right to speak for ourselves? Slavery has not been decriminalized and if a victim of slavery does ask for help, that's when you help them. Stop treating us as if we were children, and we will stop thinking of you as the posterior portholes that you are.

      Former Sex Trade Worker

      Dec 21, 2013 at 11:58pm

      @ Rick

      Yes. Sex trade work is a normal occupation. It's also one of the oldest. It's just a shame that people like you would prefer to make the profession increasingly dangerous for the women who are in the industry just to prove a point that it shouldn't exist. Frankly, you're downright delusional yourself for even suggesting that abolishing prostitution is humanly possible!

      Tell me, Rick, after all that hot air you spouted, did you ever stop to image a Canada where brothels are licensed, regulated, and frequently health inspected? Did you ever stop to think about how many women would be grateful to have a safer and more dignifying alternative to pimps?

      I care about the women on the DTES, Rick. I happen to be friends with quite a few of them and I also know that you're incredibly misinformed in your statistics. 99% of sex trade workers are NOT drug addicts or exploited, and the only reason why a sex trade worker (especially on the DTES) would be subjected to violence is because ignorant people like you want to make their job more dangerous by forcing them out of the light into the dark streets at night.

      The way you talk about sex trade workers in a condescending manner already shows me that you do not respect them, so why am I (or anyone) to believe that you have their best interests in mind? You clearly don't even respect us enough to talk about us as if we were intelligent human beings! What do you think sex workers are? Dolls? That we're dumb, broken, helpless creatures who are devoid of dignity or having any rational ideas about what should happen to an industry that concerns us?

      Your heart may be in the right place, but that's just about all that is. So far, 3 sex trade workers have commented on here and all three of us disagree with your argument. Why is that, Rick? I'll tell you. It's because you're WRONG and those of us who have actually been IN the sex trade industry have a far more realistic perspective on how things go than you do.

      Please get a clue...

      Former Sex Trade Worker

      Dec 22, 2013 at 12:05am

      Also, I wanted to add that I was attacked once while working as an escort, because I chose to take a session in a guys car instead of the safety of my home or a work place. When I phoned the Surrey police, do you know what the woman on the other line did? She asked her supervisor what they should do and then came back with the answer of, "we can't help you...I guess that's just part of the job".

      THESE are the people you schmucks think will help sex trade workers when they need it? And still you have the audacity to think the laws work. Some of the people commenting here need a serious reality check.