Sell Sex Pt. III: Bill C-36, Human Trafficking, and Sex Work (Was I Wrong?)

In one of my early posts on the blog I shared about a fundraiser I organized with one of my best friends. The two of us had both stumbled across the shocking reality of human trafficking and been horrified. Most of my experience was just through reading about it (primarily in Benjamin Perrin’s book Invisible Chains), whereas she had met human trafficking survivors while attending Salvation Army War College.

We felt frustrated, and helpless, but we wanted to do something, anything to prevent it from happening to more vulnerable individuals.

After discussing it a few times, we decided to create some kind of event where we could raise awareness for human trafficking here in Canada. We even created a petition that advocated for the “Nordic Model” of prostitution law. This model was advocated by Perrin in his book and basically entails attacking the demand side of prostitution rather than the supply, specifically by making the purchase of sex illegal, rather than the sale. In theory, this means that the individuals who are victimized by the sex industry would be protected, while those who are perpetuating human trafficking  or contributing to the prostitution demand would be punished.

So I should be really excited now that Canada is currently debating a bill that would change our current prostitution laws to something much more in line with the Nordic Model, right?

Well, I’m suddenly not so sure.

Bill C-36 was introduced by Justice Minister Peter McKay near the beginning of June.

Unfortunately McKay is also the guy who said that there aren’t many female judges because they are busy being stay at home moms, because children need mothers more than fathers. He also sent out lovely emails complimenting mothers and fathers on his staff. The mothers he commended for their hard work changing diapers, and the fathers, for their work in shaping future leaders. Not entirely sure how he managed to snag human rights activist and beauty queen, Nazanin Afshin-Jam.

According to a summary by the Huffington Post, the bill would create new offences for:

— The purchase of sexual services and communicating in any place for that purpose, with penalties ranging from a $500 fine to five years in prison.

— Receiving a financial or material benefit from the prostitution of others, including through businesses that sell the sexual services of others online or from venues such as escort agencies, massage parlours or strip clubs.

— Advertising the sale of sexual services in print media or on the Internet.

— Communicating for the purpose of selling sexual services in public places where a child could reasonably be expected to be present. Now in Canada we have been offered the opportunity to introduce the kind of legislation that could severely discourage the demand on prostitution.

I love the idea of reducing levels of human trafficking and prostitution.

Morally, I still have an issue with prostitution. I don’t believe that sex and intimacy is something you should feel that you have a right to access, just because you paid someone some money. That being said, I don’t want men and women to suffer violence just because they have different moral values than I do. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of individuals who are working in the sex industry say will happen if Bill C-36 passes.

One blog, written by an escort living in Ontario, challenges the idea that targeting demand will actually reduce prostitution:

“In Sweden, where the laws targeting clients of sex workers have been in place since 1999, sex work has been pushed further underground. Sex workers have little time to screen their clients because clients fear arrest. Sex workers are subpoenaed and ordered to testify against their clients in court. Many clients simply start seeing workers indoors, leaving only those clients who are otherwise undesirable for street-based workers (e.g., they have a criminal record already), as well as increasing competition among women for a reduced client base. If they choose to operate indoors, which is safer than working on the street, they can be evicted because landlords are charged with profiting off a sex worker’s earnings—their rent—if they do not evict the tenant.

Sex working mothers run the risk of losing custody of their children. The case of Petite Jasmine, a Swedish sex worker, is exemplary on this point. Her children were taken from her because of her work in the sex industry and given to her abusive husband, who later stabbed her to death during a visit with her children.”

While I still appreciate Bill C-36 and its attempt to target demand, I am troubled by the last three aspects of the bill that seem intended to drive prostitution out of sight, where it becomes all the more dangerous. In fact, they essentially act to prohibit the existence of brothels (where sex workers can watch out for each other) and “safer” forms of solicitation that allow them to screen their clients before seeing them.

So I want to ask the people who actually know about these things, was I wrong? Did I get caught up in fighting the problem of sex trafficking because it was quite literally the sexiest social justice cause out there? Did I understand the complexity of life in prostitution well enough to use my social advantages to push for changes in our laws?  And am I willing to do the smaller, less “exciting” sacrifices in order to actually prevent the victimization of vulnerable persons?   

5 responses to “Sell Sex Pt. III: Bill C-36, Human Trafficking, and Sex Work (Was I Wrong?)

  1. I’m not sure what to do then. No matter how you look at it there’s no easy answer. If we legalize it totally and “regulate” it we perpetuate further harm and stereotyping. But if we go for the purchasing side of it there’s also harm. THERE”S NO WAY OF GETTING OUT OF THIS IN AN EASY WAY! ANY social justice issue has some sort of consequences that leaves us stagnate. We so often hum around trying to make it perfect so we don’t offend or harm anyone. The fact of the matter is that this situation is so delicate that its like having your arm through a window of broken glass. There is no possible way of getting the harm out without some injury, but what’s the least damaging way to get the arm out without causing lasting, serious damage. It’s the same for development in Africa, Haiti or any developing country. Even the debate of abortion or any societal issue, there’s no easy answer where everyone is happy, perfectly safe, or anything. What seems more important to me is that the police in Sweden are looking for ways to find the underground prostitution rings or sex trafficking. Thats there’s effort to find people who are enslaved or perpetuating a life which is harmful. Similar to gun trafficking or drugs.

  2. I think that if our priority is to ensure the safety of sex workers first and foremost, decriminalization and government regulation of the sex trade will make the most difference in protecting the rights of prostitutes and bring the industry “into the light” and to the public’s attention, rather than driving it further into the black market like Bill C-36 may end up doing, as you discuss in this article.

    I believe that there are underlying attitudes regarding sexuality that should be examined and play a large part in the “moral vs. immoral” debate. Sexuality takes on various meanings for different people, and there is no one meaning that is more “right” than the other. If certain people are comfortable with the experience of sex as something that can be bought and sold as a service, much like entertainment, then I think the most important think is that they (especially women) are completely autonomous agents regarding all aspects concerning their own bodies. They can then have a choice whether or not they become sex workers, and they can be completely safe in the process.

    If we claim as a society that sex must only come with love, intimacy, or marriage, or “appropriate” hookups, we are placing constraints on this diversity of meanings, and further committing ourselves to the idea that the act of sex itself without these additional emotional aspects is “dirty” and “immoral.” If we want to be a society that embraces sexuality in all of its forms and can discuss its realities (not just its ideals — what we ‘wish’ it would be), I believe that removing any venues in which women (as the most affected group) are not given the freedom and control to determine how they understand and engage in sex would only have positive effects on the reduction of patriarchal structures.

  3. It is clear to me that the government realizes that the industry is worth $30 billion. If prostitution is legalized the abuse of worker and human trafficking, (40per cent minors) will worsen…the only way to stop the problem is to stop selling women. how is this for a shift in thinking…image legalizing sex services…all that are safe and agreed by the sex therapist (prostitute)/ Client chooses a service that is agreeable that suits the desire and fantasy (nurse,teacher,whatever). No act can be violent. The then is serviced by a regisistered sex therapist. Camera is in room strictly for security in case client acts out in violence then he can be prosecuted and chaged. maybe even have a police on site to ensure no criminal activities occur. The large profits from this now legalized industry than gets managed not by the government but by a group of moral leaders who then dispurse funds to existing organizations going after the guys that kidnap minors for the sex trade, or drug trafficking. Now we would be creating a lot of good. good situation for the sex workers and saving some children. 1.2 million children are trafficked for sex against their will
    Nathalie W/

  4. An interesting alternative to the “Nordic Model” is the “New Zealand Model”

    In general, the nordic model has a strong appeal as part of a broader movement which seems pornography and sex work as inherently misogynistic. The nordic nations, like Iceland, have shown great progress in women approaching or exceeding parity in areas like government office, and this may be part of that.

    The New Zealand model, however, gives women (and male and in between) sex workers more freedom to control their own bodies, including, if they wish , to treat these bodies as commodities. In this case it is prioritizing personal freedom over an intended attempt to remake society.

    Ultimately, it depends on the goals. The nordic model may be more compatible with some feminist goals for society in general, but it does so by means that also align its supporters with the goals of those who on the Right who wish to put sexuality back into the closet and deny freedom and agency to sexworkers, and risks their safety by forcing those who continue to practice back into the closet, albeit with less overt prosecution of them.

    The new zealand model gives freedom and agency and more safety to sex workers, but by permitting that freedom, it allows comodification of female bodies – often an inherently unequal trade – to continue.

    So, I don’t think you were wrong – but the issue is not entirely black and white either. It depends on whether you are happy with using state power to deny women (and trans, and men) freedom to sell sex if they want to in order to promote what will hopefully be a better society in the long term.

    In other words, to sacrifice some people for others.

  5. I agree that this is not a black and white issue. Not even close. I am in favor of the Nordic law (as can be assumed by my previous post), but struggle with this a great deal.
    How don’t know how saying that sex shouldn’t be bought is saying sex is dirty. This doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think sex is dirty one bit and yet I really don’t think buying sex will help our society or the acceptance of women. WHY IS IT WOMEN WHO ARE THE MAIN PEOPLE IN THIS CONVO? is that we haven’t come far enough in our society that both women AND men are sex workers? why is it women who “choose” or choose to be in this position? Yes, I think women are equal. I am equal. But it doesn’t mean I think we are ready to say that this is a change for both men and women.

    I think for me the problem is in the words of everyone who has spoken so far about this. I know there’s been mention of men and transgendered people in this discussion. But this discussion is still highly regarded as a women’s issue and that’s problematic for me. Is not whether we want WOMEN to have autonomy (we do), but the question of whether we simply want sex to sold. And whether like it or not, it is intimate, because these are sensitive areas of our body and I don’t know if you could convince me that we could be separate from how someone touches us to make us feel a bit more alive….(aka increased heart rate). It’s not a matter of whether we want to sell a sex act, it’s how we want to engage with one another on a human level.

    And Brock, guys definitely go to sex workers to relieve loneliness and I don’t know if we are doing a good job as a community for someone has to pay to relieve loneliness. Not saying everyone who goes to a sex worker is lonely, but there are a lot. And there have been studied on men who go to sex workers and the sex workers, as their part of their jobs, AS IF they are into this guy…who may feel rejected by women as a whole. This has been to be problematic.

    There is no easy answer, but i do think the Nordic model is a better step in the direction.

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