The life some people choose, but nobody wants

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No person wants a life of emotional and physical torture, fear and life-numbing substance abuse. Entering my fourth decade in law enforcement, having spent a substantial portion of my career trying to protect this vulnerable population, I now view women and youth who are exploited in the sex trade as victims.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/09/2014 (2893 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

No person wants a life of emotional and physical torture, fear and life-numbing substance abuse. Entering my fourth decade in law enforcement, having spent a substantial portion of my career trying to protect this vulnerable population, I now view women and youth who are exploited in the sex trade as victims.

The movie Pretty Woman bothered me for years because it depicted prostitution as a legitimate, glamorous career that people can choose and easily leave. In fact, the vast majority of women and children in the so-called sex trade are lured, oppressed and manipulated into exploitative relationships.

Dr. Melissa Farley (2003) examined 854 women and children in nine countries and concluded violence is normal in the sex trade. She found many women and youth are trapped in violent, exploitative relationships, fearing violence and suffering substance-abuse problems. The women and youth reported routine oppression through sexual harassment, verbal abuse, stalking, rape, battering and torture.

Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS files Cherry Smiley (right), of Vancouver, B.C., and Sue Martin, of Ottawa, rally in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa last year.

Farley’s study of 100 women from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side found 52 per cent were aboriginal, 91 per cent had been assaulted during prostitution, 67 per cent had been threatened with weapons, 76 per cent had been raped, 67 per cent raped five times or more and 74 per cent had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The assaults included stabbings, beatings, concussions and broken jaws, ribs, collarbones, fingers, spines and skulls. Half had serious head injuries from assaults with baseball bats, crowbars or from having their heads slammed against walls or car dashboards.

Our laws around sexual exploitation are the subject of intense debate following the Supreme Court of Canada’s Bedford decision, which struck down several prostitution-related laws and gave the federal government until December 2014 to devise new laws around sexual exploitation.

Three women had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the existing laws impeded their right to earn a living by selling sex for money. The Supreme Court struck down Criminal Code, Sections 210 (bawdy house), 212(1)(j) (living off the avails) and 213(1)(c) (communication), ruling the current laws placed women involved in prostitution at risk by forcing prostitutes to engage in selling sex without the ability to speak with clients and ensure their own safety.

The other side of the debate contends prostitution amounts to human slavery and exploitation. The sex trade has been generally viewed by policing as the organized exploitation of women and children. Adding a criminal record to the challenges these women face as they attempt to exit the sex trade only victimizes them further, making legitimate work more difficult to obtain.

Therefore, police agencies and prosecutors across Canada have co-operated in reducing the further victimization by not pursuing criminal charges. In many jurisdictions, the old laws have been used to force women into getting support, with charges dropped once the women participate in programs. Some view this as a necessary evil; others view it as further oppression of women because it forces them into programs.

The new strategies across Canada will likely involve versions of the Nordic model, which has seen some success in other countries. This model involves three basic elements: targeting the market by charging and penalizing johns; added resources for increased public awareness and programs to support women exiting the sex trade and not charging prostitutes.

In the meantime, we need to recognize vulnerable people don’t have the ability to fully understand the destructive lifestyle they are entering in the sex trade.

Society must protect people from choosing a life nobody wants. We can do this by standing and saying together it is not acceptable to buy and sell human beings for sexual gratification.

 

Staff Sgt. Bob Chrismas is in his 25th year with the Winnipeg Police Service.

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