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Friday, June 14, 2013
Groups differ on criminalizing sex trade
Vancouver-area groups argued before the Supeme Court of Canada Thursday on whether the actions of sex workers, johns and pimps should remain criminalized or not at all
Vancouver-area groups shared their vision for the country's prostitution laws before the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday, with little agreement on what should be criminalized.
Suzanne Jay of the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution was in Ottawa when the court heard arguments on whether to uphold key sections of Canada's prostitution laws. Last year, Ontario's Court of Appeal struck down part of the Criminal Code that outlaws "bawdy houses." That ruling effectively legalized brothels.
Jay said the coalition one of more than 20 groups granted intervener status argues for what is called the "Nordic model" where prostitution is decriminalized for sex-trade workers, but illegal when applied to johns and pimps.
"Don't punish them as though they're the same as the men," Jay said. "You are punishing them for their inequality."
The coalition wants police to bust more Vancouver-area massage parlours, which Jay said "sexualizes racism" and exploits Asian women through such threats as having their immigration papers withheld.
"The ads for these places entrench this idea that Asian women are for sale."
Jay said legalizing brothels would make a bad situation even worse because there is already a large network of massage parlours fronting prostitution. Many are run by organized crime.
"They're not getting busted enough," she said. "They're not getting investigated enough. If you remove the laws entirely then that just means they can advertise more blatantly. They don't have to be as discreet as they are now."
Speaking from Ottawa, Kerry Porth of the Pivot Legal Society said Nordic model didn't work and that all prostitution laws should be struck down because even arresting johns hurts sex-trade workers.
"I don't know how taking away a woman's means of earning a living is helpful to her."
Porth said people fear what they don't understand.
"If sex work is decriminalized we can be a lot more open in talking about the reality of what sex work is," she said. "Just because (Criminal Code section) 213 disappears you are not going to have a sex worker standing on your front lawn."
Such a stance rankles Tania Fiolleau, a former madam who ran four brothels, but who now operates the savethewomen.ca website. She wants being a john or a pimp to remain illegal, stiffer penalties, and more resources to help women escape the life.
"This push to legalize it all gives the women a false sense of empowerment," Fiolleau said. "(Being a sex worker) chips away at their soul. They become the walking dead."
Legalizing brothels, she argues, won't get rid of dangerous pimps because they will simply act as "bodyguards or drivers." The goal, she said, should be getting women out of prostitution, not "pretending they are empowered."
"In my opinion it's paid rape," she said. "Women are not consenting in their heart."
Researcher says put more focus on men who buy sex
Arguments about prostitution laws made before the Supreme Court of Canada Thursday left out one key party johns.
That's the opinion of Vancouver-based researcher Chris Atchison, who says understanding the john mentality is key to improving safety in the sex industry.
The University of Victoria academic has researched the "client side of the commercial sexual exchanges" for 18 years, including the studies Johns' Voice and his most current work, Sex, Safety and Security.
"If we don't know how (the) law affects clients exactly, we cannot know how effective it will be in addressing the issues it is meant to address," Atchison said.
The current prostitution laws "complicate the safety" of all involved, Atchison said, because of the fear of arrest.
"When clients don't feel anxiety, don't feel they are going to be arrested, when they feel safe and secure, they actually develop more communicative and so-called healthier relationships with the workers they see. They engage in higher levels of sex safety and lower levels of conflict."
Created: June 16, 2013
Last modified: July 2, 2013
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