CUSJ Listserv Discussion on Prostitution – 2010

On September 28th, 2010, Ontario Supreme Court Madame Justice Susan Himel declared the Federal Government laws on prostitution unconstitutional, effectively throwing them out. She gave governments 30 days to adjust to her ruling. The Federal Government will appeal. This situation stimulated a vigourous discussion on the CUSJ listserve, which is summarized below:

First comment: If all activites related to prostitution are to become legal, then the players should operate as a business, report income, pay taxes, and deduct expenses like any business. They would require a license and there would be questions to resolve on what conditions would need to be met in order to obtain such a license. (eg what conditions would protect the health and the security of all the players?)

Second comment: There are women in the profession who favour social controls and those who don’t. Those who are happy with this ruling say that they will be able to move inside, and that this will make it safer for them. The consensus on the list was that there will always be people who are too poor to go inside and who will walk the streets. There were strong voices opposed to street walking because it brings increased violence and harm to all people on the streets in the areas where it happens and on our streets in general. We did not arrive at a consensus solution, but many favoured the Swedish approach.

Third Comment: Since prostitution is thousands of years old it is extremely unlikely that any approach will eradicate it. We need to focus on harm reduction — the same approach we are trying in many places with reducing drug use.

Issues Discussed

  • Statistically, most sex for sale is survival sex.
  • Many Johns prefer underage girls, and they will cruise ANY child who happens to be in their neighbourhood.
  • As long as prostitutes walk the streets, any woman walking the streets at night can be accosted for prostitution or attacked simply because she is walking alone in the street.
  • If we want to support young people to get off the streets, we need to ensure they have adequate income support, housing, and opportunities for education and job training or job search skills.
  • Areas where prostitution is conducted as a business should be well-policed with police focussed on maintaining the peace and the security of all persons no matter who they are.
  • Prostitution lets men skip all that time-consuming stuff about being polite and paying attention to their partner’s needs. More than one prostitute has observed in interviews or in print that their job is to help the socially awkward guys. Unfortunately, some of the socially awkward guys have serious power issues too. That’s why programs like OWL are so valuable. That’s also why shelters for battered women are necessary.
  • Putting men in prison seems rather drastic for first offenders. Mandatory counseling on developing normal relations with the opposite sex will likely head many in the direction they want to go anyway. I think the few John schools in some parts of Canada do this now.
  • This discussion seems very hetrosexually focussed. The issues are not just about male Johns and female prostitutes. Young boys are also prostituted. Men and women can be “the Johns.” All kinds of sex are subject to the paid sex market.
  • Eliminating the demand from Johns is the Swedish strategy. Some successful prostitutes won’t like it because it cuts down on their business, but most will be glad to be diverted to other occupations if the resources are in place to help them do this.

What’s happening around the world?

Look at the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden: “the Baltic model of intervention when it comes to prostitution.” They have tried legalizing body houses and prostitution. “Now these countries view prostitution in its myriad forms as male violence directed towards women and children. Sweden enacted legislation over ten years ago to stop male demand for commodified sex. It is working beautifully! Other countries are looking now to adopt/adapt this model. Prostitution does harm. Bought sex is not benign, as most pro-prostitution lobbyists would have the world think. Decriminalizing “paid rape” of women and children is not a moral issue. It’s a violation of some pretty basic human rights. Countries such as the Netherlands and Germany are really questionning the merits of decriminalization. These countries thought it would provide solutions. It has done just the opposite. Women are not safer and organized crime is more prevalent than ever. Decriminalization produces a “sex on demand” national mentality. Does Canada want or need this? We have enough going on with the mainstreaming of pornography without decriminalizing prostitution as well.

  • They learned that legal prostitution areas are quickly infiltrated by organized crime.
  • Legalizing prostitution increases the amount of violence prostitutes are exposed to.

“In 1999 Sweden took a pioneering approach: rather than punishing those who are sold for sex, the country holds the purchasers of sex acts liable. Without demand there would be no sex trafficking and prostitution. The government also implemented a $32 million national action plan that helps those that are being sold for sex to obtain assistance to exit their exploitation.” excerpt from Sweden’s Fix: Jail the Johns, Globe and Mail — see below. “The evidence is that the Swedish model is working. Between 1999 and 2003 the number of women being sold for sex in the country dropped by 40 percent. Last July, an independent inquiry by an eminent judge resoundingly endorsed the Swedish model based on its ten-year track record, finding that it disrupted organized crime, deterred sex-act purchasers, changed public attitudes, and cut street-level prostitution in half.” Norway and Iceland are following suit.

The Swedish model recognizes that there is an undeniable link between human trafficking for sexual exploitation and prostitution. Research shows that abuse, poverty, substance abuse, homelessness and violence are major factors in someone’s ending up in prostitution. One study found that 85 to 95 percent of prostituted women want out but see no options to leave. Sweden’s approach is designed to help them.

“If there’s any positive side effect of the Ontario court’s decision, it might prompt Parliament to consider adopting the Swedish model, as the standing committee on the status of women recommended in 2007. Canada should commit to the abolition of sexual exploitation.” Benjamin Perrin.

“In Sweden, prostitution is regarded as an aspect of male violence against women and children. It is officially acknowledged as a form of exploitation of women and children and constitutes a significant social problem… gender equality will remain unattainable so long as men buy, sell and exploit women and children by prostituting them.” Straight Goods.

The Social Costs of Prostitution include:

  • Violence against the prostitutes themselves (Picton and the pig farm)
  • Violence against women in general who don’t feel safe to walk the streets at night
  • Health hazards to both the prostitutes and their clients.
  • Recruitment and trafficking of children accross provincial, state and national boundaries
  • Drastic social injustice: “the police had Picton in custody at the very time that a prostitute was in the station house to lay a complaint against him for attempted murder, and they let him go because (in their view) he was a rich man and she was, after all, only a drug-addicted prostitute.
  • And don’t forget that most of those “disposal women” were of First Nations ancestry. When “Rupert’s Land” was nothing more than forts and military camps, it was First Nations women who were captured and held captive in the brothels which surrounded them. This country should be so ashamed of its history with First Nations women, as its double victim of racism and sexism.
  • I’ve been talking with friends about the disappeared women in Vancouver, Edmonton, and elsewhere across this country. It is important to focus attention on these vulnerable women.


  • Join forces with church groups who are fighting this issue
  • This judge’s ruling has refocussed attention on women’s safety and vulnerability and our inadequate laws.
  • President’s recommendations 1) Adopt harm reduction as a principle 2) Encourage the Federal Government to adopt some version of the Swedish approach including adequate resources to help women, girls and boys to get off the street 3) Include a strong statement in support of vulnerable First Nations women. 4) Include good programs for men who have difficulty communicating with women. 5) Include the connection between prostitution and human trafficking.


  • Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network 2013 01 Report: Sex Work Law Reform in Canada: Problems with the Nordic Model
  • Violence Against Women, Vol. 10 #10, The Swedish Law that Prohibits the Purchase of Sexual Services: Best Practices for Prevention of Prostitution and Trafficking of Human Beings by G. Ekberg — Prostitution 2010 10 Swedish Law – Ekberg — Excellent article summarizing history and content of Swedish approach.
  • WI Ladie’s Guide to Brothels: about a British Women’s Institute task force that visited brothels around the world to come up with policies for their local sex workers. They recommended legalizing brothels to provide greater health and safety for women involved in this trade. Prostitution 2010 10 Women’s Institute
  • Globe and Mail article by Benjamin Perrin, a law professor at the University of British Columbia and author of Invisible Chains, Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking. Prostitution 2010 10 Globeandmail Sweden
  • MS. Magazine, summer 2010: writer Carrie Baker reminds readers in a recent blog that she “cited a study revealing that hundreds of girls aged 17 and younger are sold for sex each month in Georgia.” Her post refers readers to new studies in New York, Michegan and Minnesota showing that, as the US economy craters, rates of trafficked teenagers are soaring. Prostitution 2010 10 MS Magazine – sex trafficking
  • Sojourners Magazine, August 2010: Atlanta does battle against the sex trafficking of kids: Prostitution 2010 10 Sojourner’s Magazine
  • 2008 Report by Emory University’s Barton Child Law and Policy Center would later confirm, the exploitation cuts across all racial and economic lines. “At the time she (the judge) had few options: she could sentence the girls to juvenile detention or return them, under court supervision, to their guardians. Georgia had no treatment facilities equipped to deal with the special needs of these girls. There was no funding available to supplement the services of the foster care system and the juvenile courts. And while there were laws to punish them, there were effectively no laws to protect them. In 2000, buying or selling sex with a minor–“pimping and pandering” in legal parlance–was a misdemeanor in Georgia. The fine — $50. Prostitution 2010 10 Report on Demand Side 2008
  • Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin commissioned an investigation into the situation, which resulted in a report called “hidden in plain view.” When I followed the link for that report, I got this: Prostitution 2010 10 Report Exploitation of Children 2008
  • Straight Goods: Sweden’s Prostitution Solution, 1999 law treats prostitution as a form of male violence against women. Saturday, April 2nd, 2005, reposted Saturday, October 2nd 2010 by Marie de Santes. (no link available.)
  • The federal Department of Justice should have been looking into better approaches to the current patchwork of inadequate laws according to Dr. Mariana Valverde , Director of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Toronto. She speaks about the ruling on the prostitution law at this CBC link:

Look for the video window to the right of the picture with the following description: Prostitution Law Ruling* University of Toronto Criminology Professor Mariana Valverde talks about Canada’s anti-prostitution laws with Carole McNeil. 7 minutes — enough time to fully articulate her position.

Final Word

Dear CUSJers,

Thinking about it, it is the very difficult word — RESPECT of yourself and most important, respect of others and the very difficult learning to express this to them despite old hurts and ignorance of our own. This is a very big topic that we all need to talk through because it is basic to all living creatures. Jennifer Loomer.

1 thought on “CUSJ Listserv Discussion on Prostitution – 2010”

  1. This is a most comprehensive analysis. Thank you! I am pleased to do my small part in facilitating OWL programs in Ottawa. Am also proud of my Swedish heritage. May the Swedish model gain more traction worldwide to prevent human rights abuse against women – or possibly even men or those of other gender identification who are disrespected from a legal and personal perspective.


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