Experts on Prostitution Warn Canada on Danger of Legalization

Thu Mar 10, 2005 - 12:15 pm EST

OTTAWA, March 10, 2005 ( – A Canadian government justice sub-committee considering the legalization of prostitution recently received dire warnings from two separate sources. The committee, formed to deliberate the merits of NDP MP Libby Davies’ private members’ bill, which is supported by the Liberals, is making its way across Canada to solicit Canadian opinion on the matter.

When the committee made its stop in Vancouver, Simon Fraser University criminologist Dr. John Lowman argued in favour of legalization. Many “sex workers choose to prostitute because of the rewards it brings, not because they have no other way of making a living,” he claimed, as reported by the Edmonton Sun. “Prostitution is more about opportunity than it is desperation.” He argued that legalization would eliminate much of the exploitation of women. 

Gregor Carlin, Director of the Irish Anti-Trafficking Coalition, responding to Lowman’s claim, said, “I found that particular commentary positively scandalous. Street prostitution does not have any rewards. Canada is to the slave trade what Japan is to the whaling industry. Your country has no role which could be described as ‘positive.’”

“The ‘in-door’ sex trade in Canada has been effectively de-criminalized for years,” Carlin added. “The real issues of overt decriminalization usually take the form of affording added value, tourist services or allowing for the open sale of goodwill and other brothel attributes. No system has ever reduced street prostitution other than outright prohibition,” he said. 

Prostitution Research & Education’s Melissa Farley, Ph.D., was equally critical of the Liberal’s proposition in an article appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of Transcultural Psychiatry. In the article titled Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women, Farley highlights that “First Nations young women are prostituted in overwhelming numbers in Canada.” 

Farley’s findings paint a grisly picture of life as a street prostitute. In her investigation into street prostitution in Vancouver, “We found an extremely high prevalence of lifetime violence and [post-traumatic stress disorder -] PTSD. Fifty two percent of our interviewees were women from Canada’s First Nations, a significant overrepresentation in prostitution compared to their representation in Vancouver generally (1.7-7%).”

“Eighty two percent reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, by an average of 4 perpetrators,” Farley added. “Seventy two percent reported childhood physical abuse, 90 percent had been physically assaulted in prostitution, and 78 percent had been raped in prostitution. Seventy two percent met DSM IV [psychiatric manual] criteria for PTSD. Ninety-five percent said that they wanted to leave prostitution. Eighty six percent reported current or past homelessness with housing as one of their most urgent needs. Eighty two percent expressed a need for treatment for drug or alcohol addictions.” 

Visit Prostitution Research & Education site.

Read related coverage: 

Canada Preparing to Legalize Prostitution?  


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