Nordic rule of law would protect vulnerable women, reduce human trafficking
A major Canadian Christian organization is calling on Ottawa to combat human trafficking by making it illegal to purchase sexual services.
Canadian law does not prohibit buying or selling sex. Instead, activities surrounding prostitution, such as soliciting or maintaining a brothel, are illegal. As a result, it is often prostitutes but not their customers who are the focus of law enforcement.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is lobbying the Canadian government to revise the Criminal Code of Canada along the lines of what has become known in Europe as “the Nordic model of law,” in which prostitution is legalized but the purchase of sex by johns is not.
“The Government of Canada has demonstrated it is taking leadership in combatting human trafficking,” says Don Hutchinson, vice-president with the EFC. “Given that the primary reason for trafficking of persons is for use in the sex for sale industry, a review of Canada’s existing prostitution laws is an essential part of developing a strategy to pursue an end to trafficking in persons.”
In a much-publicized 2010 decision, Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down three provisions of Canada’s prostitution law as unconstitutional. An appeal is awaiting decision from the Ontario Court of Appeal, and is anticipated this spring.
“Now is the time for Parliament to begin considering the best way forward in Canada with respect to prostitution laws,” says Julia Beazley, policy analyst with the EFC. “In reality, Canada’s existing prostitution laws neither protect prostituted women from harm nor effectively discourage prostitution. It falls to Parliament to implement laws that are more effective in regard to prostitution, the number one reason for trafficking in persons.”
The EFC says it has encouraged the federal government to reform Canadian laws in a manner consistent with the legal and social framework implemented in Sweden.
“The Swedish government was the first to recognize that it was essential to focus the law’s punitive powers not on those who were being sold, but on the pimps and johns,” said Beazley.
In 1999, Sweden enacted the Ban on the Purchase of Sexual Services, becoming the first country to decriminalize prostituted women and instead criminalize those who buy (johns), export, import and market (pimp) them. The Swedish government took the view that prostitution is a form of sexual violence against and exploitation of women, contrary to any sense of equality between the sexes.
As such, they enacted laws with the goal of abolishing prostitution by eliminating demand, while offering prostituted women a way out. This approach was duplicated in Norway and Iceland, and is now referred to as the Nordic model of law, according to the EFC.
“In 2010, an independent inquiry was established to study how well the change in law has worked and the effects it has had on rates of prostitution and human trafficking for sexual purposes in Sweden. The evaluation shows that the ban has been an unmitigated success,” said Beazley.
Beazley says that shortly after its introduction, street prostitution in Sweden was reduced by half, and has not shown any bounce-back. Before the ban, rates of street prostitution in the capital cities of Norway, Denmark and Sweden were comparable.
“While rates in Sweden decreased by half, the other countries experienced significant increases over the ten year period. Also significant has been the reduction in organized crime and human trafficking in Sweden since the ban was implemented,” she said.
It has now been demonstrated in several countries that legalizing prostitution results in a corresponding spike in the trafficking of women and girls for use in prostitution. At the same time, implementation of the Nordic model of law has resulted in both decreased prostitution and decreased human trafficking.
“Prostitution must be seen for what it is – violence against women and an affront to gender equality,” says Glendyne Gerrard of Defend Dignity. “We must recognize that if we allow men to purchase sex, we are agreeing that there will be a group of human beings who must be made available for purchase; a group that is dominated by poor, marginalized and, in Canada, aboriginal women.”