“Women like being prostituted.” That was the message suggested by the person I was speaking to, and it took me by surprise. In all my years of helping women survive and recover from the sex trade, I have never met a woman who chose or enjoyed selling herself. Far from it. The women I met—my friends—told me story after story of abuse, exploitation and long-term suffering. All of them wanted out but didn't know how to escape. And I didn't know how to help them, either.

Prostitution is an oppression that's been around a long time. And the complex realities of the women who face its evil are intense. Physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual abuses are the makings of a prison. Even when the prison door is open, it is extremely difficult for women to step out to freedom.

I talked to a woman who spent 25 years in various forms of sexual exploitation. She said it “killed her soul.” That's a deep wound. Why would people suggest that women who are caught in such an abusive and damaging trap actually like it? Why would women go on the news and say they enjoy selling their bodies when the statistics concerning prostitution are so glaringly different?

In a study of 854 people currently or recently involved in prostitution from nine different countries including Canada, 63 percent had been raped; 89 percent wanted to escape, but did not have other options for survival; and 68 percent met the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder. Hardly a strong case, statistically, for liberation.

What would motivate a society to suggest that the buying and selling of women's bodies is an acceptable practice, even though we know how damaging this is to our society, relationships and personhood? These questions are worth thinking through. Last December, the Supreme Court struck down Canada's prostitution laws. Canada has one year to decide and establish a new legal framework for how it is going to deal with women caught in prostitution. It is important for Canadians to be informed of possible options, so here's a breakdown:

1) Legalize Prostitution

Some think introducing a legalized framework for people caught in the trap of buying and selling human beings will make things “better” for them. But by “better,” they don't mean it will be good, just that they will be “safer.” Proponents of this theory suggest that legalizing indoor prostitution is safer because women can call the police for assistance and panic buttons in brothel rooms will reduce the risk of violence. It's a theory. But that's where it ends. Every country that has chosen to legalize the sex industry has suffered from an increase in illegal prostitution, and human trafficking has flourished.

The Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2007) notes: “Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—encourages the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a facade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.”

In Amsterdam, which has the most famous “red light district” in the world, the mayor recently asked the UN for some help with their fast-growing human trafficking problem. Instead of creating a legal framework that protects victims from exploitation, Amsterdam ended up creating a modern ghetto of poor, exploited women.

Australia is often cited as another liberation hot spot as brothels have now been legalized in every state—in some for almost 17 years. I worked as a chaplain to many brothels and established a chaplaincy network that visits dozens of brothels every week in different cities around Australia. We learned a lot by getting to know the women who work in brothels. One thing we recognized was the link between legalized prostitution and human trafficking.

2) Criminalize Prostitution

The proponents of legalization suggest that this is the only other alternative. It's certainly the model with which we are most familiar. Rather than see women as victims of sexual exploitation, many countries around the world prosecute the women who are prostituted on our streets. Such was the case with the recent Canadian law struck down by the Supreme Court. Rather than offer women a way out of a terrible and abusive reality, the law suggested that it was their fault. Sex workers were often charged with the crime of solicitation and fined or jailed. This punishment only further victimized women.

Many of the women I worked with were unable to access social housing or schooling because of a solicitation charge on their record. Others faced huge fines that forced them to work in the illegal trade even longer to try and get out from under the burden of this kind of legislation. This is a flawed understanding of prostitution as well.

Catherine Booth, who founded The Salvation Army with her husband, William, shared her thoughts on this topic 150 years ago. “Prostitutes were not so much sinning as were sinned against,” she said. Perhaps as she heard stories and journeyed with women, she understood the complexity of the oppressive nature of the sex industry.

3) A Three-Pronged Approach

So, if legalization and criminalization are not options, what can we do?

Twelve years ago, Sweden faced this exact question. When they studied the root causes of prostitution, they concluded that prostitution is essentially a form of violence against women. That perspective changed everything. Suddenly, the country understood that they could no longer tolerate a practice that was violence disguised as entertainment.

Before we go on, think about domestic violence in Canada. Twenty-five years ago, we considered domestic violence to be a “private” issue. We thought that women who liked to live with an abusive husband were making their own choices and it was none of our business. But something shifted. As we understood more of the realities of violence and oppression, we realized that it was not OK for women to be beaten and oppressed. We decided not to tolerate violence against women. We decided that it was everyone's responsibility. We decided to open shelters and programs to support women who wanted to leave abusive situations. We decided that women didn't have to testify against their abusers before they could be charged with a crime. We decided to teach our children that violence is not an acceptable practice and we educated people about these decisions.

This is exactly what Sweden did with prostitution. They decided to treat the women who were caught in the grip of prostitution as victims of a crime. They also decided to treat the men who pimped them or paid for their services as perpetrators of that crime. And then they did something essential to change the minds of the nation—they offered ways out of prostitution to the women who had no options. This included re-training, counselling, medical and housing support, and educating the public (especially children). If you were to ask a young adult male in Sweden what he thinks about prostitution today, he'd be disgusted at the idea.

To summarize the three-pronged approach: 1) Decriminalize the women; 2) Criminalize the buyers; 3) Offer exit programs and provision for victims.

When the Swedes changed their laws around prostitution, their official government website read: “We want the world to know that in Sweden, women and children are NOT FOR SALE.” Wow.

Could we envision a country where prostitution would no longer be necessary, viable or profitable? Wouldn't it be nice to announce to the world that we lived in a country that protected its most vulnerable members?

The good news about this approach is that it's working. After 10 years of adapting the new laws, Sweden launched a study to test its new framework. As other countries' prostitution rates continued to soar higher, Sweden's kept decreasing.

The mindset of the nation had changed. And even more fascinating was the conversation that Interpol overheard in secret phone taps of human traffickers who suggested avoiding Sweden as it was too much trouble. If women and children are not for sale, human sex trafficking will not gain a foothold.

Next Steps

So Canadians have many choices. They can legalize the sex industry in Canada and pretend that women are choosing to sell themselves into degrading and permanently damaging situations. They can criminalize women again—toughen up on crime and victimize those who are already caught in an oppressive cycle. Or they could join the tide of empowerment and freedom for women everywhere. They could embrace the Nordic model and announce to the world that, in Canada, women and children are not for sale.

Will this work overnight? Of course not. The social nightmare that is prostitution in Canada has taken years to create and it will take years of persistent action to reverse its effects. But it will be worth it.

Take the example of politician William Wilberforce who devoted much of his life to the abolition of the British slave trade. At the time, every nation thought slavery was the only thing that made sense. Even those who didn't really like the idea still thought that it was impossible to change. Wilberforce's great work was that he changed their minds and his efforts led to the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833. Wilberforce enabled people to envision a world where slavery didn't exist.

This is our time to envision a world where women and children don't have to sell themselves into sexual slavery in order to survive. We can be part of changing and challenging this oppression. Let's live the dream.

Major Danielle Strickland is the corps officer at Edmonton Crossroads Community Church.


Action Plan

Increase your own awareness. Read more about the Nordic model at prostitutionresearch.com/topic/swedish-law-on-prostitution.

• Get involved. Find out how you can support Army programs that help prostitutes get off the streets.

• Pray. Ask the Lord for freedom to reign in Canada.

• Use your voice. Contact your local government representatives to tell them your thoughts. Write them a note so they can hear from Canadians about what they want for the future.

• Host a film night. Red Light Green Light is a new documentary on this issue. Visit redlightgreenlightfilm.com.


On Thursday, May 29, 2014, Ashleigh said:

Every law is a reflection of the legislation of morality…we all know that robbery, stealing and murder would be considered immoral would we not? But what about those people who make a living stealing and cheating others? I’m sure that if you were stolen from you would be grateful to have laws in place that would enact justice on your behalf? There are people who get pleasure from killing, and I’m sure that if one of your family members were murdered you would want to see laws enforced that would bring justice to your family, would you not?

So why is this any different. Why is prostitution so much different when it comes to the selling of human beings? How is this simply written off as a moral issue and not an injustice in the eyes of so many citizens in this nation? Is it because we don’t know how to say no to those urges that would drive us to want to use someone else for pleasure. Is it those dollar signs in the eyes of those who are orchestrating the selling of human beings? We ignore the truth, but the truth has a way of surfacing and the consequences of truth ignored can and will be devastating. Women and children…even men are not items and I believe that it is an injustice for them to be treated as such. To place monetary value on a human beings is the greatest way to devalue someone. Its not about emotions (though I’m sure this topic stirs up some pretty firey ones)
It’s about putting into place laws that would bring justice to the who are being bought and sold and to bring liberation and freedom to those enslaved. I believe Canada will not disappoint and it will stand for justice and it will not allow for Human beings to become dollar signs.

On Thursday, March 20, 2014, Peter Brookshaw said:

Thanks Danielle for this. "Violence disguised as entertainment," is a powerful description of the issue. There is surely much to be done in Canada and Australia, and other parts of the world to shift this mindset, that women and children should not be sold.

I'm praying Jesus will increase your influence, so as to strengthen your voice against such things.
God Bless,

On Monday, March 17, 2014, Doreen Edwards said:

I do not agree with legalizing prostitution in Canada for either men or women. It is a degrading lifestyle and rarely by choice

On Monday, March 17, 2014, Doreen said:

My vote is against the legalization of prostitution.

On Sunday, March 16, 2014, Bonnie Stephen said:

I do not agree with the legalization of prostitution as I believe it will further victimize the individuals involved. Lets consider the Swedish model where these individuals are provided with a way to escape the sex trade, where those who would purchase, benefit, abuse their power over another and devalue the lives that are engaged in the sex trade be the ones to be charged with a criminal offense and let us educate our society that we are more value and that the sale of humans for sexual services is abuse, is violence against especially women and children but in many cases also men.

On Sunday, March 16, 2014, Larry Tollefson said:

I am opposed to legalizing prostitution.

On Sunday, March 16, 2014, Debbie Plummer said:

I do not agree with this legislation and my vote is against the prostitution law that the government is wishing to legalize in Canada. Let my voice be heard!!!

On Sunday, March 16, 2014, Robbie Beniuk said:

Hello - I have met many people in the sex industry in both Vancouver's East side and in Sydney where I worked near a legal brothel that the girls would regular. Both very different scenario's for the women involved and to tell you the truth, I'm not sure which had a better outcome for the women. Both groups suffered from major drug addition, more so in East Van.

Now I don't take a moral stance in the debate, though I will say that my personal belief is that consensual sex for money, male or female, is none of my business and isn't for me to judge. The sexual habits of individuals and consensual players who charge for it is, again, none of my business. The moral objection to me is irrelevant; I disagree with many practices in our society, but moral objections alone should not create policies of justice. If you can respect that, I think you can not only encourage your base to support your proposal, but you could begin reaching out to groups like myself who are fundamentally of a different mind set - non-Christian, but who share a desire to push for the policy that will lead to more men and women escaping the downward spiral they find themselves in, protecting those who engage in prostitution (as I don't believe any law will stop the trade from occurring on some level), providing effective resources to offer alternatives and support for those wishing to leave the sex trade, and allocating the resources to combat human trafficking by all means necessary.

Or at least I feel we share those desired outcomes. Straight up - we will not agree on everything - but if you can respect my and others opinion that the sex trade must be able to operate in some capacity, as we believe it will find a way anyhow, and I can respect your opinion that all sex trade workers and Johns or either victims or should be deemed criminal, then we can both debate and add to the progress of policies and ideas that we BOTH agree on.

I found it hard to not attack this article on it's tone - I felt it was emotional instead of rational at times. That there was a refusal to accept that some people actually work in the industry out of choice - that some people believe the sex trade should be legal because they believe it would help take it OUT of the criminals hands and move it towards a safer environment. If it can't be considered, it should at the very least be acknowledged, and I'll finish by saying why; if I believe you won't consider any information or opinion that differs from an outright criminalization of Johns, then I don't believe your looking for solutions, I wouldn't trust you to present or consider information that may actually lead to a solution to this problem. Is that fair?

Thank you

On Saturday, March 15, 2014, Carolyn said:

No to making prostitution legal.

On Monday, March 10, 2014, Donald Jefcoat said:

This is a great article Major Strickland.

The problem in Canada at least to my interpretation was that in Canada what criminalized prostitution was not the act but the procurement of the act. Communicating for prostitution. Also living off the avails of prostitution. In essence until recently Canada had been on the path of decriminalizing the victim and making the offender responsible. That is what was struck down. At this moment Canada needs to recreate the legislation.

One of my hearts desires is to help men overcome their vices. Sex addiction being one. I think one thing we need to do is look at the roots to how a man (or women) finds themselves seeking out the services of a prostitute. One issue that often crops up with most cases of sex crimes is pornography. Such material is not a safe way to spice up a relationship. It is to the very core damaging to relationships, and lives. I think Canada would do very well to make such material illegal. I think there are tools available that Internet Service Providers should install to block access to such.

Another Issue that these people face is lack of attachment. They are in essence hermits in their own world. Yes they may appear to be social but they don't have the healthy relationships needed. So they go looking for it through other venues i.e prostitutes. Helping these offenders to connect with others in a healthy way through counseling/coaching.

Also personal abuse is another issue. It may intertwine with the above notion of poor relationships. However there are some men/women who have formed an unhealthy view of appropriate relationships. And when they cant mimic what they are looking for sometimes they buy some ones time, to do so.

So how should we as Christians look at prostitution? How should we as Christians address this issue? This is my opinion but something to look at and think about.

I personally believe that all parties in someway are victims. They all need help. As Christian men we need to do our part to set the example. Yes we need to write our letters to the appropriate person in government. But how about writing to the owners of convenience stores that sell pornography possibly even not shopping there. If we as men take the stand, get the knowledge behind the dangers of porn and sex trade, and help educate other men we should see a change. We need to show these women a better way, that they are above being a product, that they are worthy.

I think the Salvation Army in many areas is well set up to help the victim and the offender. This needs to be continued and expanded.

I want to point out that smoking is on the decline. Not because of the controls around it but because of the education and the stigma around it. I think if we as a society took that same approach we might see a decline in similar fashion with the trafficking of women.

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