Since the early days of the Movement, The Salvation Army has sought to help those caught in the sex trade. It has established places of refuge for victims, sought legal changes that would both prevent human trafficking and punish those involved, and it has created alternatives for those vulnerable to trafficking. That tradition continues in Canada today, where The Salvation Army offers shelter for trafficked persons, diversion programs for prostitutes and johns, and support structures for those who are leaving the sex trade.
As Canada develops new legislation to govern prostitution, Commissioner Brian Peddle, territorial commander, has sent the following letter to the Prime Minister, which reflects the Canada and Bermuda Territory's position on the issue.
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The Right Honourable Stephen Harper, P.C., M.P.
Prime Minister of Canada
House of Commons
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A6
Dear Prime Minister:
Effectively addressing the realities of prostitution in Canada presents the government with a huge and complex challenge. The Salvation Army offers its perspective in an effort to help meet that challenge.
Prostitution in Canada overwhelmingly exploits those with whom we are in contact. Prostitution exposes people to an environment rife with high levels of abuse and violence. It takes advantage of their vulnerabilities and disregards their worth as human beings. We say this based on The Salvation Army's long and extensive experience in ministries such as our shelters, addictions treatment work, church congregations, street ministry, and correctional and justice services.
The people The Salvation Army encounters typically have not chosen to get involved in prostitution and cannot be considered entrepreneurs. Of the hundreds we have related to in recent years, all but a handful say they would prefer to exit if there were meaningful, attainable alternatives. Those we meet sell sex in order to survive—to eat, to live or to sustain an addiction. Typically, they have been involved from a young age (12-14 years old) and someone has “facilitated” their entry into prostitution—a john who talks them into it for $50, a pimp who promises a couch or nice clothes, a peer who has normalized it. They may have run from an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional home life or a group home situation. Sadly, entry into prostitution has not looked extreme to them.
Prostituted people we see have had limited time and little success in school and have not had skills training for alternative work. They have acquired a substance addiction either as a “grooming” measure or as a way to cope. Typically, they suffer from severe and inadequately managed mental, spiritual, relational and physical health issues. Sadly, many feel it is now the only option of which they are worthy.
The Salvation Army is a member of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and the Canadian Council of Churches. We support the recommendations you have already received from them. In addition, we offer the following recommendations based on our distinctive experience:
- Raise public awareness of the fact that prostitution is a form of violence, including violence against men, boys and society, but primarily against women and girls.
- Provide extensive resources by way of health and social services collaboration between federal and provincial levels of government that make it easier for those who are prostituted and those who are buying sex to exit the life. Realistically, the appropriate resources for an adult to try to get out are not available.
- Make it harder to exploit vulnerable women, men and children in the sex trade.
- Do not normalize the “sex trade” as just another industry.
- Allow for extensive consultation with sex trade workers from a diversity of backgrounds, as well as social service and law enforcement agencies who work with them. Acknowledge that the rights and safety of those forced into, trapped in or desiring to exit the “trade” are not trumped by the rights of women who are in it voluntarily.
- Promote and enforce existing laws that address violence against women, sexual assault, human trafficking and child abuse in the context of prostitution.
- Support court diversion programs, such as prostitution offender programs (a.k.a. “john schools”), that not only provide a mechanism for a community-based alternative to a criminal conviction, but also raise the conscience of offenders about the wrongs they have done and effect some measure of restorative justice for those they have mistreated.
The Salvation Army believes that in an ideal world, people would not think of sex as a market commodity. But that is not the world in which we live. Sex is bought and sold, and vulnerable and unsuspecting people are wronged in the process. While as Christians we champion the ideal, we believe the first call on us all is to defend the most vulnerable, and undo, or at the very least facilitate healing from, the injustices they suffer.
The Salvation Army urges that more is needed than is available now. Not only more money and more expertise, but more believing in other people, and showing that we do by creating healthy relationships with them. For us, prostitution is not just an “issue.” It's an issue that always has a human face.
The mission of The Salvation Army is to be a transforming influence in the world. We believe that no one deserves to live as prostituted people live now, and we want to help them live the better, transformed lives they want. We cannot do all that is needed. Neither can government nor law. But collaboratively, significant progress is possible.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this issue in greater detail.
Commissioner Brian Peddle
Commissioner Rosalie Peddle
Territorial President of Women's Organizations
The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory
The Honourable Thomas Mulclair, M.P.
Leader of the Opposition
Mr. Justin Trudeau, M.P.
Leader of the Liberal Party
Ms. Elizabeth May
Leader of the Green Party
The Honourable Peter MacKay
Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada
Ms. Françoise Boivin
NDP Justice Critic
Mr. Sean Casey
Liberal Justice Critic