Why the prostitution laws are essential, part 3: Violence and stigma are inherent to prostitution

14 March 2022

Violence is inherent to the system of prostitution, and we do not believe that violence can be reduced to acceptable levels.  

In Germany, where prostitution has been legal since 2002, incidents of attempted murder of prostituted women increased between 2002 and 2017. Women in Germany’s mega brothels, which are equipped with security cameras and personnel and panic buttons, continue to suffer violence. The legalization of prostitution did not eliminate the murders or attempted murders of women in prostitution in Germany. 

As the Department of Justice Technical Paper on Canada’s current prostitution laws notes, “Prostitution is an extremely dangerous activity that poses a risk of violence and psychological harm to those subjected to it, regardless of the venue or legal framework in which it takes place, both from purchasers of sexual services and from third parties.”  

Discussions about reducing the violence experienced by individuals in prostitution should not be centered around the prostituted making better, safer assessments of buyers or choosing safer locations. That puts the responsibility for evading or reducing the violence on the victims, and not on the perpetrators. Canada’s current laws, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), do the logical and just thing in targeting the source of the violence experienced by women in prostitution – the buyers and pimps. 

In fact, the most recent Canadian data point to a significant decrease in homicide victims related to the sex trade after PCEPA came into force, despite overall homicides increasing. The perpetrators were less commonly sex buyers or gang members after PCEPA, and more likely to be strangers or acquaintances. The statistics also indicate that victims involving a sex-trade-related offence were significantly less likely to have a physical injury after PCEPA.  

It is worth noting that women’s groups and coalitions of former prostitutes in countries like New Zealand, where prostitution was decriminalized or legalized are beginning to call for legal reform, saying that decriminalization has failed them. They argue that their working conditions and their safety didn’t significantly improve, nor was the stigma they experienced as prostitutes reduced. Police in Christchurch, NZ have expressed concern over the “fairly common” victimization of prostituted persons in the capital. 

The source of violence and stigma is not the laws a given country has on paper. The source of the violence is the buyers, pimps and traffickers who prey on and abuse prostituted women. This flows out of the belief that men are entitled to paid sexual access to women’s bodies, and that this paid access entitles men to do what they want. If those beliefs are not challenged, the misogynistic attitudes and behaviours that are the source of the stigma and violence will persist. 

PCEPA challenges that belief. It expresses grave concern over the violence inherent in prostitution and the risks of violence posed to those who engage in it. It recognizes the social harm caused by objectifying the human body and treating sexual activity as a commodity. We believe the current laws are an essential tool in the fight against sexual exploitation.  

Based on the EFC submission to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), February 25, 2022. 

For more information on the review of the prostitution laws in Feb/Mar 2022, see

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