Three questions about the Buying Sex billboards

24 July 2017

A billboard campaign is reminding Canadians that "Buying sex is a crime." Why is the EFC part of the group holding this campaign? We asked Julia Beazley, the EFC's director of public policy, to help us understand better as part of our Three Questions Series.

Q1. Why is the EFC a partner in the billboard campaign?
This campaign is supported by a cross-section of organizations across the country that want to see an end to sexual exploitation. Ending exploitation means turning the focus away from those who are prostituted and exploited, and on to the demand for paid sex, which is the root of sexual exploitation.
Canada’s laws on prostitution changed in 2014. Buying sex, or attempting to buy sex, is illegal in Canada. So we currently have a legal model which focuses on the demand for paid sex, in an effort to directly combat sexual exploitation.
The aim of the billboard campaign is to highlight and support this approach, and work to reduce the demand for paid sex, which is what funnels women into prostitution and fuels sex trafficking. The sex industry operates according to market principles of supply and demand. If we can reduce the demand for paid sex, there will no longer be a need for a supply of women, children and men who are for sale. That is our objective.
Q2. Why are the silhouettes on the billboard only male?
The choice of image – the male silhouettes – was intentional, because the demand is primarily from men.
It’s true that some women pay for sexual access to other women or to men, particularly as both men and women increasingly use pornography. But the reality is that the purchasing of sex is a deeply gendered issue. Available research and our partners on the ground tell us that the overwhelming majority of sex buyers in Canada are male, whether they are purchasing women, children or other men.
There is limited research on women who buy sex, but a study out of the University of Victoria found that only 1% of Canadian sex buyers are women.
We also know the majority of victims of trafficking – in Canada and worldwide - are women, trafficked into prostitution for purchase by men.
One of the partners in the billboard campaign has run a john school in their community for more than 20 years. Of the nearly 3,000 individuals who’ve participated in the program over that time period, just two have been women. Each of these two women was caught while accommodating her husband's attempt to buy sex.
Another partner in the campaign, who is a survivor of sexual exploitation, notes that in her 10 years in the sex industry, she was never bought by a woman – only by men, in the tens of thousands.
Increasingly, there are cases of women recruiting, trafficking and even pimping out other women. Often there is much more to the woman’s story than what is relayed in the media. But it is an unfortunate reality that in a culture where women’s bodies and sexuality are devalued and commoditized, some women devalue and commoditize their own bodies, and those of other women.
Challenging the demand for paid sex, and the view that women’s bodies and sexuality are a commodity, are among the most important ways we can work to reduce sexual exploitation.
Q3. What outcome do you hope for with this campaign?
In part, this is a public education initiative. It’s against the law to buy sex in Canada, and these billboards serve as a reminder.
But we hope the billboards will make people think, and think differently, about prostitution – whether they have bought sex, thought about buying sex, joked about buying sex or never considered buying sex at all.
It is our hope that all men who value and respect women will be bothered by these billboards. Bothered that this IS a gendered problem. Bothered enough to speak out against a culture in which the idea of buying sex and the extreme objectification of women are so commonplace and normalized. Bothered enough to say that men who are complicit in these things are disrespecting and devaluing women, as well as disrespecting and dishonouring men and masculinity.
A culture that accepts sexual exploitation can never be truly just, equal or safe. We want to call our society to something better, because both women and men are created for more.
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