March 12, 2012
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
As a battle over Canada's prostitution laws wends its way through the courts, some Christian groups are campaigning to abolish prostitution.
Last year, an Ontario judge struck down Canada's prostitution laws as unconstitutional, agreeing with the prostitutes who brought the case that the present laws endanger their security of person, forcing them to work on the streets or unable to seek help from police. The decision has been appealed.
"What we have in this window is an opportunity for Parliament to craft better laws that will affirm the dignity and value of all Canadian women," Evangelical Fellowship of Canada policy analyst Julia Beazley told an information session at an Ottawa church March 1.
Beazley stressed it is not laws that put women in danger. Legalizing and regulating prostitution or decriminalizing it altogether will not protect women, she said.
Though some have argued legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution will get women off the streets, it is not the location that endangers them, she said. "It's the violent johns, pimps and traffickers who prey on them."
Prostitution is a "dangerous and tangled web that includes human trafficking, massage parlors, strip clubs and pornography," she said. Toughening laws against human trafficking will not be enough if prostitution is not addressed.
Conservative MP Joy Smith, who has led Canada's campaign against human trafficking, said she is urging Canada to adopt the Nordic model to combat prostitution.
This model targets the users of prostitution - the johns and the pimps and traffickers - and does not further victimize the women or children who are caught in the sex trade.
In Canada, though the sale of sex is not illegal, soliciting, pimping and keeping a brothel are.
In the 10 years since Sweden adopted the Nordic model, rates of prostitution have been cut by 50 per cent, Smith said. The country is no longer viewed as a lucrative country for sex trafficking, cutting the numbers of women and children trafficked into the country.
Countries such as the Netherlands, which legalized prostitution, have experienced a major upswing in organized crime and trafficking, she said.
"Changing the laws is not enough. Women and children leaving the sexual exploitation need help to rehabilitate their lives," Smith said.
Changing the laws is only one piece of what is needed.
The EFC is partnering with one of its member organizations, Defend Dignity, an outreach of the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
For Defend Dignity founder Glendyne Gerrard, her commitment to end prostitution began as the Holy Spirit began making passages in the Bible concerning justice leap out from the page.
"I realized that God was much more interested in the poor, marginalized and oppressed than I was," she said.
She began to pray the Scripture from Micah 6.8: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."
After moving to Regina and volunteering to work at the local food bank, she met her first prostitute.
Gerrard also met Trisha Baptie, who was a prostitute in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and who had worked alongside many victims of mass murderer Robert Pickton.
She invited Baptie to come and speak at a church event. Gerrard said she sat and wept when she heard the stories, especially concerning those of First Nations women.
"God had indeed answered my request through Micah 6.8," she said. She then resolved to do what she could to help and "Defend Dignity was born."
On a video sponsored by Defend Dignity, Baptie described growing up in a middle-class home wracked by domestic violence. By the time she was 13, she "had addiction issues and was volatile."
She got involved with prostitution through an older boy. For 90 per cent of women in prostitution, "our pimp is our boyfriend," she said.
HE DIDN'T LOVE YOU
"It's only afterwards you realize he didn't really love you."
She was lured into prostitution through alcohol and drugs. She spent years on the street, until approached by some young women who ministered to prostitutes on the street.
She agreed to go to church and heard the message of Jesus dying for her sins and surrendered her life to him.
For the next two years, she was surrounded by women who supported her as she made the painful steps to leave the sex trade.
The groups plan to bring Baptie to Parliament Hill later this spring to tell her story of how prostitution dehumanizes and degrades women and of her own journey to freedom.