Sunday, December 4, 2011

Touching Base! Part 146 (Re-Post)

Guest posting by Meredith MacKenzie

(This article can also we found on our website
at under the tab called "Blog")

This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.

People often call prostitution the “oldest profession” and hold very negative opinions of those involved in its practice. And while many persons are involved in prostitution (men, women, children, transgendered) most of the comments in this Touching Base will refer to women. My purpose is to provide some background information on sex work in Canada, what our current legal climate is, as well as suggestions for a way forward and why, as Christ followers, we should care. As you read the following facts, you will come to realize that most people are involved in sex work as a profession of last resort.

Research has shown us that most women involved in prostitution are sexual abuse survivors. A study that interviewed 854 women currently or recently involved in prostitution showed that, of the 100 respondents from Vancouver’s downtown east side[1]:
  • 54% were younger than 18 at age of entry
  • 86% experienced homelessness (current or past)
  • 73% were beaten or hit by a caregiver as a child
  • 84% were sexually abused as children
Furthermore, while in prostitution:
  • 67% were threatened with a weapon
  • 91% were physically assaulted
  • 76% were raped
  • 95% used drugs
  • 47% used alcohol
When asked “What do you need?” these same women reported:
  • 95%, to leave prostitution
  • 66%, a home or a safe place
  • 67%, job training
  • 82%, drug/alcohol treatment
  • 41%, health care
  • 41%, peer support
  • 58%, individual counselling
  • 49%, self defense training
  • 33%, legal assistance
  • 32%, legalize prostitution
  • 12%, child care
  • 4%, physical protection from pimp
A Toronto study found that 90% of women wanted to escape prostitution but could not[2]. In Nevada 81% of women in LEGAL brothels stated they “urgently want to escape prostitution.”[3] It should be noted, however, that there is a small and vocal minority of sex workers who say they choose prostitution as a viable job option.

More Canadian data shows us that 70-80% of those involved in the Canadian sex industry began as children. 80-95% are fleeing from sexual abuse that usually began in their homes[4].

Further marginalization occurs within our current legal system as well. A Vancouver study concluded that, in the past, police have largely overlooked men who buy sex from children. From 1988 to 1994, the study stated that only six charges were laid against people who bought sex from children. In the same period, however, 354 juveniles were charged for selling sex[5].

There are many factors that influence involvement in prostitution. They can include sexual abuse history, drug dependency, trafficking, emotional and financial duress, lack of supportive family structures, poverty, limited education and a real or perceived lack of choices.

Current debate in Canada is being waged in the courts regarding legalization, decriminalization and abolition:
  • “Legalization” refers to amending the Criminal Code so that the industry of prostitution is entirely legal and regulated like other industries;
  • “Decriminalization” aims to repeal certain parts of the Criminal Code, allowing for prostitution to be considered in the same manner as other occupations;
  • The “abolitionist” argues that prostitution is not, and cannot be, a safe, legal form of work for anyone. They seek to decriminalize the actions of the prostitute and criminalize the purchasers and purveyors.
Sweden has adopted a policy based on gender equality - they argue that normalizing or legalizing prostitution is equivalent to tolerating violent behaviour and disrespect to women. Thus, they have instituted harsh penalties for johns (the men who pay for prostitutes) and have provided funding for the provision of supports for prostitutes (aftercare programming, counselling, rehabilitation, etc.).

Since the Swedish laws criminalizing the demand side of prostitution were implemented in 2000, trafficking in humans has almost completely stopped (down to about 400-600 women per year). Finland, whose prostitution laws are similar to Canada’s, registers 10,000-15,000 trafficked women per year, and yet is half the size of its neighbour Sweden. Stockholm, Sweden also saw the number of johns reduced by 80% and street prostitution was reduced by 66%. [6]

Now let’s contrast this with the situation in the Netherlands, which adopted a policy to legalize brothels and address prostitution from an employment/labour law position. They believed that the new laws would protect women from violence and eliminate organized crime’s involvement in prostitution. Unfortunately, since legalizing prostitution in 2000, 66% of Amsterdam’s legal brothels have been closed down due to the government’s inability to control organized crime. The number of children in prostitution has increased by more than 300%. One state in Australia also legalized prostitution (Victoria) and saw increases in child prostitution.[7]

The links between prostitution and human trafficking are undeniable, since prostitution is the destination point for most trafficked persons. By the mid 1990’s, 75% of women in legal German prostitution were from other countries (most had been trafficked from Eastern Europe).[8]

So prostitution is only and ever a violent exploitation of vulnerable individuals.[9] It is an issue of gender equality and involves the sexual exploitation, violent oppression and abuse of society’s most vulnerable children, women and men. The Bible is full of reasons why we should care about the issues in prostitution. After all, God has charged us with the responsibility to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). We are also told in Matthew 23:39 to love our neighbours as ourselves, and Isaiah 1:17 tells us to “say no to wrong, learn to do good, work for justice, help the down and out, stand up for the homeless, go to bat for the defenseless.”

Are there any barriers you can identify that prevent you from engaging in this issue…?
… personally?
… culturally?
… structurally (politically)?
… as the Church?

Where can we go from here?
  • Consider your own attitudes about prostitution and challenge cultural attitudes by raising awareness on how the purchase of sex involves exploitation (see the NCAP website below).
  • Lobby for appropriate policy changes to protect those at risk (see Evangelical Fellowship Link).
  • Provide a safe place of welcome, acceptance, friendship, healing and restoration (i.e. true Christian Community) where lives can be transformed.
Meredith MacKenzie

If interested in joining or starting a small group contact us at

[1] “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Farley, M., Cotton,A., Lynne, J., Zumbeck, S., Spiwak, F., Reyes, M.E., Alvarez, D., Sezgin, U. Journal of Traumatic Practice 2 (3/4): 33-74, 2003.

[2] Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto, 1987

[3] Prostitution and Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connection. ISBN: 0615162053, Melissa Farley, 2007

[4] Kimberly Daum, "Sexually Exploitated Children in Canada: The Law is Not on Their Side," Opinion/Essays, 17 October 1996

[5] “Vancouver: Predator and Pedophile Paradise”, a study by John Turvey, executive director of Downtown Eastside Youth Activities Society; Mark Clayton, "To Curb Vancouver’s Big Trade in Child Sex, Police Nab ‘Johns’," Christian Science Monitor, 1997

[6] “Selling Ourselves: Prostitution in Canada Where are we Headed? A comparison of the Swedish and the Dutch Models, and the Correlation Between Prostitution and Human Trafficking.” The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. April 2010

[7] Myths and Facts about Trafficking for Legal and Illegal Prostitution. Farley, M., March 2009.

[8] "Trafficking of Women to the European Union: Characteristic, Trends and Policy Issues," European Conference on Trafficking in Women, June 1996, IOM, 7 May 1996, Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto, 1987

[9] Selling Ourselves
See also Prostitution of Indigenous Women: Sex Inequality and the Colonization of Canada's First Nations Women. Lynne, J., Farley, M. 2008.

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