I have read with great interest the column by Vanessa Hamilton (Jan. 18), and the response by Carissa Taylor (Letter To The Editor, Jan. 23) on the crossroads that our country finds itself regarding our prostitution laws. I am hopeful with the prospect of what we can achieve now that we are able to design a new system from scratch.
I agree with both Vanessa and Carissa that the sexual exploitation of children is reprehensible and must be prevented and intervention provided for those who are already entrenched.
As Vanessa mentioned in her article, Tracia’s Trust: Manitoba’s Sexual Exploitation Strategy has a presence in Westman, including a regional team — the Westman Team Against Sexual Exploitation which is made up of various stakeholders who are actively trying to engage with youth, educate service providers, and inform the public on the realities and prevalence of sexual exploitation in our communities.
One issue that always comes up in discussions of those involved in the sex trade is that of choice. I would tend to agree with Carissa that there are individuals involved in the sex trade who are there of their own volition. However, we know that the average age of entry into the sex trade is 13 and that 70-80 per cent of adults involved in the sex trade started as minors.
When you speak with an adult who has been involved since their teen years, they may say that it is a choice they are making and they are now a consenting adult, but in reality that choice was taken from them many years before. Even for those who enter by choice, the decision and ability to leave is much more of a struggle once they become addicted to drugs and experience recurring trauma.
I disagree with Carissa that the answer to these problems is full legalization and regulation, but rather the answer lies in criminalizing the act of purchasing sex. A couple of years ago, I was able to hear Gunilla Eckberg speak on the Swedish model regarding prostitution. Gunilla was instrumental in the design of the Swedish (also known as the Nordic model) which decriminalizes the selling of sex but criminalizes the purchasing while providing services to women who wish to exit.
This approach gets at the basic problem that I have with prostitution which is that it is violence against women; usually men using their power and buying a woman’s body for their own personal sexual gratification. Studies in Sweden have found that this law has not resulted in prostitution being forced further underground and I believe it is a model that should be implemented in Canada.
I am not interested in sweeping prostitution under the rug and pretending it does not exist, nor am I interested in pleasing business people with extra tax revenue as much as I am in ensuring that women and men in the sex trade are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve.