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Sister Nancy Brown, SC

Sex trafficking: does Canada want to become like Germany?  

Voices Oct. 19, 2018

“I have seen the vulnerability of many homeless 16- to 25-year-olds being taken advantage of by dishonest predators,” says Sister Nancy Brown, who legalizing prostitution in Canada will “normalize sexual exploitation of women and youth while letting the perpetrators act with impunity.” (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Shock, dismay and fear were some of my emotions as I witnessed the resolutions passed at the Liberal Conventions in Halifax in April 2018. In particular, the resolution put forward by the young liberals of Canada with regard to the abrogation of the 2014 Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act was alarming and disheartening. It called for the decriminalization of consensual sex work and of the purchase of sex work for those over the age of 18.

With its current law, Canada has become a leader and has taken a very positive, progressive step forward for demand reduction, gender equality, and the elimination of violence against women. The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, (PCEP Act) is in compliance with the UN Palermo Agreement and respects the human rights of prostituted and trafficked women and youth while at the same time holds the buyers and profiteers accountable.

Throughout the world, more and more countries are implementing this model which is an innovative form of prostitution policy. It has been adopted in Sweden (1999), South Korea (2004), Iceland (2008), Norway (2009), Canada (2014), Northern Ireland (2015) France (2016), Republic of Ireland (2017), and variations in Finland, and is under consideration in Italy, Israel, and Luxembourg. Canada can continue to be a global leader in stopping gender-based violence by ensuring the consistent implementation of our laws throughout all provinces of our country.

The Liberal resolution would effectively decriminalize the exploiter and eliminate any protection of the young person who enters into prostitution as a teenager to meet their survival needs. Prostitution is not a choice, nor is it work but rather a system of power imbalance where one person purchases sex from another. It neglects to recognize that prostitution is inherently violent, coercive, and dehumanizing and can never be safe. The preamble to the PCEP Act states that exploitation is inherent in prostitution and recognizes the social harm that is caused by the objectification of the human body and the commodification of sexual activity.

The PCEP Act needs to be upheld and strengthened throughout our country. Without this law, we will have more missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls throughout Canada, more Robert Pickton cases in our provinces, more disappearances of youth along our Canadian highways (like the Highway of Tears in B.C.), and increased violence and organized crime throughout our country. The buyers, profiteers, and traffickers will not be held accountable for the injustice and harm they cause to the voiceless and most vulnerable in our society.

Does Canada want to become like Germany which in 2002 passed a law to legalize prostitution? Since then, prostitution in Germany has increased up to 30 per cent and trafficking has increased with approximately 90 per cent of the women in prostitution coming from abroad, mainly Romania and Bulgaria. The red-light district has become a highly criminal environment in the hands of organized crime. Germany is now known as the Brothel of Europe and called a pimp of the most vulnerable women.

Listen to what Ingeborg Kraus, a German psychiatrist, has to say about what has happened in her country since 2002. “Today we have flat rate brothels where you pay 50 euros and you will get a beer, a sausage, and women without any limitation. Mega-brothels have been created for the increased demand, like the ‘Pasha’ in Cologne with 10 floors and 150 women ‘working’ there. We are observing a reduction in the rate of payment for women: 30 euros for sexual intercourse while the women pay around 160 euros for a room and 25 euros taxes per day; that means that they have to serve six men before starting to earn money. The violence has increased, the sex buyers have become more brutal, and the sex practices more perverted and dangerous. Before the laws of 2002, the buyers had a guilty conscience. That doesn’t exist anymore. They want more and more. The language has changed, women are dehumanized, and they are call, ‘fresh meat’, ‘new goods” … that is super market language.”

Legalization or full decriminalization is not the answer for Canada. It would normalize sexual exploitation of women and youth while letting the perpetrators act with impunity. Trafficking would increase and organized crime would flourish.

Now is a critical moment for concerned citizens to speak out for those who are silenced. Our current law needs to be protected as it rightly criminalizes the buyers of sexual services and encourages the prostituted person to exit. Many who have fallen into this web of violence are unable to speak for themselves for many reasons such as fear for their safety, fear of arrest or deportation, and lack of trust in formal systems such as law enforcement or the foster care system. Psychological dissolution is often experienced by prostituted persons, inhibiting them from speaking out.

Throughout my 25 years of ministry at Covenant House, I have witnessed the lasting damage done to those who have been bought and sold. I have seen the vulnerability of many homeless 16- to 25-year-olds being taken advantage of by dishonest predators. As I pondered the pain and suffering of many vulnerable young people who are struggling to survive or escape this web of violence, I recalled the words of Proverbs, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network says, “Exposure to childhood trauma and adversities contributes to subsequent vulnerability to be trafficked. Many trafficked youth have experienced childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, traumatic loss, separation from caregivers, and family and community violence. Such experiences can profoundly impact social-emotional development in complex ways that affect the child’s understanding of personal safety, sexual boundaries, and healthy relationships leaving them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking.”

Child abuse has been named the boot camp or the pipeline to prostitution. So too, prostitution is a pipeline to human trafficking. Those caught in this web do not realize the reality, as many have been forced to become dependent on drugs, confused by the false promises of the perpetrators and the stress of the trauma. They are unable to speak for themselves; therefore concerned citizens need to defend the PCEP Act for their safety and future.

Are we doing enough to address the ideology that dissociates the meaning of sex from love? How are we as a society, within the family unit, in our educational institutions and churches, adequately addressing the true meaning of love? What are we doing to address the amount of violence that exits within the institutions of our society?

Research indicates that 89 per cent of prostituted persons want to escape but are forced to remain in it because they had no other options for survival. Let’s take to heart the words of Elie Wiesel: “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Please speak to your Member of Parliament, local councillor, mayor, and police force to ensure the PCEP Act remains and is consistently enforced throughout Canada. We cannot be silent when our brothers and sisters are suffering from such an injustice.

 Sister Nancy Brown, a Sister of Charity of Halifax, has dedicated decades to fighting for women who have been sold into the sex trade. She recently retired from her role at Covenant House in Vancouver but continues as an advocate and activist through her work with the Anti Human Trafficking Committee of the Archdiocese of Vancouver and REED (Resist Exploitation Embrace Dignity).