What’s at stake: Canada’s prostitution laws up for review

02 October 2020
What is Canada’s current law on prostitution?
Canada’s current prostitution laws are up for a review. There is much at stake.
The EFC believes that the current prostitution law, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), is an essential tool in the fight to end sexual exploitation in Canada.

Passed in 2014, PCEPA targets the demand for paid sex by prohibiting the purchase of sex. The punitive powers of the law, then, are focused on sex buyers, pimps and traffickers; while those who are being sold are decriminalized, except under very specific circumstances.

The spirit and intent of the law is that those who are prostituted are considered victims of exploitation and given immunity from criminal penalty. This approach recognizes that criminalizing those who are vulnerable only serves to create further victimization and barriers to their exit from exploitation.

This approach is critical, because we know that the sex trade operates according to market principles of supply and demand. Without male demand for paid sexual access to primarily women and girls, the prostitution industry wouldn’t be able to flourish or expand.

It is also significant because the law is a teacher. It has a normative effect on society. If upheld and fully implemented and enforced, this law would teach coming generations of boys that it is not just illegal, but unacceptable to buy sex.

The sex purchasing offence in PCEPA is backed up with significant fines and potential jail time. Men who buy sex indicate that these consequences, along with the risk of public shaming, would most effectively deter them from buying sex.

The law also maintains prohibitions against pimping, and against benefiting materially from the sale of another person’s sexual services, and includes a new offence making it illegal to advertise the sale of someone else’s sexual services.
Why is it important that we engage?

Research and anecdotal evidence tell us that the vast majority of women in prostitution (between 88-96%) are not there by choice and would get out if they felt they had a viable alternative.

We know that factors like poverty, past abuse, addiction, mental illness and racialization contribute to individuals entering prostitution or being vulnerable to exploitation. Youth who are in foster care or who have aged out of the system are particularly vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation.

As recognized in the preamble to PCEPA, prostitution is inherently exploitive and dangerous. It violates human dignity to allow paid sexual access to another person. It objectifies the human body and causes social harm. And it is fundamentally contrary to equality between the sexes.
All women and girls are safer in a society that stands up to the idea that any woman or their sexuality can be bought or sold.

The demand for paid sex is the driving force behind prostitution and sex trafficking. That’s why it is so important for all of us to actively support Canada’s current law on prostitution as the government faces pressure to repeal it.
What can I do?

Built in to PCEPA is a mandatory five-year review of the law and its effectiveness, which is now past-due. We know that the current government is under pressure to repeal the laws. It is important for each of us to let our MPs know that we support PCEPA as an essential tool in the fight against sexual exploitation in Canada.
The EFC is working with other organizations to support the laws, and to push for them to be upheld and enforced across the country. (Watch this powerful video by EFC’s partner Defend Dignity.) But we need your help. 
Here are 3 things you can ask your MP to do:
  1. Support the prostitution law when it is reviewed.
  2. Advocate for long-term, consistent funding of programs that support exploited individuals who wish to exit prostitution.
  3. Support a public education campaign to ensure Canadians understand what the laws are and the harms of prostitution.
The EFC has a sample letter and information to help you engage with your local MP.
Author: Julia Beazley

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