This past Tuesday, January 2010, the Social Justice Committee of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association held a panel discussion on human trafficking and the sex trade, referencing the upcoming Olympics.
Robin Pike, from the Office to Combat Trafficked Persons, indicated that women involved are afraid and won’t identify themselves. There is a covert network of services in place for trafficked people, much like the Underground Railroad that existed in the time of slavery in the United States. There is a real concern about possible child trafficking in British Columbia as well as domestic trafficking in Canada which is mostly aboriginal women from poor reserves.
As well as this concern for the unique vulnerabilities of aboriginal and other women, Daisy Klein from Vancouver Rape Relief mentioned her concern for Southeast Asian women, stating that poor, addicted, and racialized women are the most likely to be on the streets. As a member of the Vancouver coalition that seeks total abolition of prostitution, she said that trafficking, prostitution, and child prostitution all serve the same function as part of the continuum of violence against women.
From Irwin Loy’s article, “How safe are the streets of Vancouver?”, in Oldtown News, “Ask Susan Davis when the last time she had a 'bad date' was, and the Vancouver sex-trade worker doesn't have to think too far back.’ Last night,’ Davis says. Her 'date' was drunk and got a little too rough. But Davis didn't even think about telling the police. ‘It's amazing what we get used to,’ she shrugs, by way of explanation. ‘An assault to me is relative to the number of times I've been assaulted. And I've been assaulted so many times I can't remember.’”
As Daisy went on to say at the discussion, it is a myth to suggest that in a world free from sexism and racism that women would freely choose prostitution. Therefore it is not appropriate to speak of prostitution as “work”. We should speak about the “women who are in prostitution” or talk about “a prostituted woman” rather than using the terms “prostitute” or “sex workers”.
Janneke Lewis, a lawyer and activist, said,” Prostitution is chosen for us by poverty, past sexual abuse, the pimps who take advantage of our vulnerabilities, and the men who buy us for the act of prostitution.”
Legalizing brothels and prostitution won’t create safety for the women, men and children involved. Brothels actually make it more dangerous because the violence is hidden behind closed doors and sanctioned behind the façade of a legal business. As Janneke stated, “After the legalization of prostitution in Amsterdam, the number of children in prostitution increased by 300% between 1996 – 2001 from 4,000 to 15,000 children Sweden is the only country that has reduced trafficking and the exploitation of women for sexual purposes by decriminalizing the selling of sex and criminalizing the purchasing of sex by pimps, traffickers, and johns. Decriminalizing the selling of sex and criminalizing the purchasing of sex shifts the blame from the person who has no choice to the person who has choice. The john can decide whether or not to pay for sex.
These exploited women need exit strategies: safety, shelter, food, justice, equal treatment, education, and skills training in order to leave prostitution.
Winn Blackman, from the Salvation Army, revealed that human traffickers have already been here in Vancouver for at least one year. They view the 2010 Vancouver Olympics as the biggest opportunity for them in decades. The Salvation Army is set to launch a huge campaign against human trafficking during the Olympics because, “God is bigger than VANOC.”
From Mine Salkin’s article, “Buying sex not a sport: Sex work activists”, in the Metro Vancouver, former sex-trade worker Trisha Baptie says, “It’s human slavery. There are women in brothels in Vancouver right now, and more will come before the Games.”
We cannot allow the 2010 Olympics to be used to legalize this violence against us all. We must turn our focus to the real solutions that are already being realized in other places like Sweden. Please speak out to stop a tragedy in the making. The collective voice of thousands of people can transform a predator’s world into a life-affirming world for everyone.
Please note: The story embedded in this photograph is true.