Canada: Pass legislation to prevent the sexual exploitation of women & girls

UPDATE 12 NOVEMBER 2014: Fantastic news — Bill C-36 passed in Canada and received Royal Assent on 6 November, which will make it official law on 6 December! Many thanks to all of you who took action! Equality Now and our partners welcome the law's focus on buyers and pimps, and while certain problematic provisions criminalizing the selling of sex remain we hope these are addressed in the future as the law is reviewed. In the meantime, Equality Now will continue to support our partners in Canada to ensure the law is implemented and work toward a culture of equality where women and girls are free from exploitation. Thank you for all of your support! (For additional updates, click here.)

On 20 December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada declared Canada’s prostitution laws unconstitutional. The Canadian Parliament has until December 2014 to enact new laws or the inherently exploitative activities surrounding prostitution, such as brothel-keeping and pimping, will be decriminalized. Activists throughout Canada and around the world are calling on the Canadian government to seize this crucial opportunity to enact legislation to help protect women and girls from exploitation and violence. While people in prostitution should never be criminalized, full decriminalization of the sex industry does not prevent exploitation or further the human rights of people in prostitution, especially in a context marked by inequality.

“If we decriminalize [the] prostitution [industry] we’d be saying it’s open season on our women, especially our marginalized and vulnerable, when it’s them we should be protecting the most” says Trisha, a survivor of sex trafficking and founder of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), a Canadian non-profit that advocates for the abolition of prostitution. Trisha was exploited for 15 years in the sex industry in Vancouver, starting from when she was just 13 years old, in illegal and legal “establishments” both indoors and outdoors. She has since become a leading activist, and is among the many survivors advocating for Canada to pass legislation that decriminalizes and ensures support for women in prostitution while criminalizing those who pay for sex. Known as the “Swedish” or “Nordic” Model, this legislative and policy framework recognizes the power inequality between the buyer and the person in prostitution and seeks to rectify it by:

  • Decriminalizing people in prostitution (i.e. people selling sex),
  • Criminalizing those who pay for sex acts, brothel-keepers, pimps and procurers, and
  • Mandating robust funding for services for people in prostitution, including assistance for those who wish to exit prostitution.

This framework is gaining traction throughout the world and has been adopted in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. Currently it is being considered by the parliaments of France, Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Right now, the Canadian government has a vital opportunity to better protect people in prostitution and help rectify the stark gender, race, ethnic and socio-economic inequalities evident in – and sustained by – the prostitution industry. Precise numbers are difficult to obtain, but it is clear that the vast majority of those in prostitution in Canada are women, and that many – like Trisha – enter into prostitution as children. Further, women and girls from marginalized communities, including Aboriginal communities, are disproportionately represented.

By passing legislation in line with the Nordic Model, Canada can join other socially progressive countries by effectively advancing gender equality and addressing exploitation in the commercial sex industry, in line with its international legal obligations.

Please join Equality Now and our Canadian partners EVE, Sextrade101, and the London Abused Women’s Centre, in calling on the government to enact legislation in line with the Nordic Model.

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