Legalizing prostitution won't make women safer, a sex-trade survivor told about 200 women and 20 men at a one-day conference on human trafficking.
Just two days before the Ontario Court of Appeal released a ruling that legalized brothels while maintaining laws against pimping in the Criminal Code, Bridget Perrier told conference delegates the myth of prostitution as a choice must be challenged.
The March 24 conference was organized by the Loretto Sisters.
"We always hear that prostitution is the world's oldest profession. I always say it's the world's oldest oppression," Perrier said. "Really, it's paid rape. It's child abuse."
Criminalizing women in prostitution only punishes victims, said Perrier. But striking down laws against keeping a common bawdy house, pimping and living off the avails of prostitution will further endanger vulnerable women if there are no other changes to Canada's laws.
"It's the men who should be punished," she said.
Amsterdam and other jurisdictions with sanctioned red-light districts have proven legalized prostitution results in more organized crime and more under-aged girls in prostitution, said Perrier. A legal sex-for-sale industry expands the market for trafficked girls and women.
Perrier worked in street prostitution and brothels from the age of 12 into her 20s. She wants laws that seriously and severely punish men who buy sex.
"Their wives should know. They've got a right to know," she told a discussion group at the conference.
But ultimately laws can only do so much, she said.
"Men need to be held accountable," said the recovered heroine addict and pre-law student with the First Nations Technical Institute in Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.
"It needs to start when they're little. They need to be taught that we honour women, they are our life-givers."
Women in prostitution are overwhelmingly poor, racialized and vulnerable. Having spoken to hundreds of prostitutes since graduating from George Brown College's community worker program and hundreds more during her life as a prostitute, she believes 97 per cent want out.
"Why are these three per cent dictating?" she asked.
The law has to target the market for women, girls and boys, Conservative MP Joy Smith told the conference.
"We cannot allow our children to be bought and sold. It just can't happen," the Winnipeg-area MP said.
Smith is the sponsor of Bill C-310 which would allow Canadian courts to prosecute human trafficking offences committed outside Canada by Canadians or permanent residents of Canada.
The bill received unanimous support from the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights March 15. It was brought back to the house March 26 for third reading.
Smith is pushing for a national action plan on human trafficking that would fund NGOs and train police and others to see the signs of human trafficking.
"Intrinsically we are not a country of slavery. We are a country of freedom," she said. "It's all about money and that's why we need a national action plan."
Trafficking women and children for sex is the second largest source of funds to organized crime after the drug trade, Smith said.
Sister Evanne Hunter called the trade in women and children for sex "the dark side of globalization."
"The forces conspiring against women in this world are appalling," said Hunter.