New anti-prostitution laws urged to target men who buy sex

Groups that work with women in the sex trade and a former sex-trade worker want the federal government's new anti-prostitution laws to target the men who buy sex, not the women who volunteer to work, or are forced to work, in the sex trade.

Former sex-trade worker, Evangelical Fellowship of Canada say johns fuel sex trade, not workers

Victims of human trafficking say laws don't do enough to go after men who seek out sex trade workers. 4:55

As the federal government reviews three anti-prostitution laws struck down by the Supreme Court, some people want the new laws to target men who pay for sex, making the buying of sex illegal.

This week, Judy Trinh investigates Ottawa's human trafficking industry. Watch her stories on CBC TV at 6 and listen on CBC Radio One.

In Ottawa, police are now arresting johns — those who pay for sex — in their prostitution sweeps, instead of sex-trade workers. It’s an intentional change from years past that makes the streets safer, according to police.

In December, the Supreme Court of Canada decided to strike down the country’s anti-prostitution laws prohibiting brothels, living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in public with clients. The top court ruled the laws were over-broad and "grossly disproportionate."

As the government reviews those laws and forms new ones, people like Sarah, a former human trafficking victim who said she was forced into prostitution, want those laws to also target johns.

“If there's no john, there's no market. It's just as much the johns’ fault as it is the pimps’,” said Sarah, 28, who agreed to share her story with CBC News on the condition we only use her first name.

Young teens focus of human trafficking

Sarah says, after being forced into prostitution, she spent four years as a sex-trade worker enduring 16-hour days. She said lawyers, doctors, businessmen were all clients of hers beginning when she was 21 years old.

Unlike Sarah, though, victims of human trafficking are much younger, according to one expert.

T he mindset of a john is like they're ordering pizza - Helen Roos, Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking

“It’s very much 13, 14, 15 (years old), the johns want younger and younger. It's sexploitation of young people and it's a common trend across Canada,” said Helen Roos-Remillard, a consultant based in Gatineau, Que., who researches human trafficking.

Remillard, who's also a member of the Ottawa Coalition to End Human Trafficking, said johns have a casual view of the sex trade, adding, “the mindset of a john is like they're ordering pizza.”

Clear punishment deters johns, group says

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada is one group that’s lobbying the federal government to make the purchase of sex illegal in any form — drugs, shelter, money or food.

Julia Beazley, a co-ordinator with the fellowship, said research shows men will only be deterred from buying sex if they face clear punishment.

Helen Roos-Remillard says most of the victims of human trafficking she's spoken to have started in massage parlours or strip clubs, and some of the same people were forced into the sex trade by boyfriends or family members. (CBC)
“If we hope to stop human trafficking and sexploitation, we have to target the demand for paid sex,” she said.

“There are different studies of male buyers across the world asking, ‘what would make you stop?’ And they would say: steep fines, possible imprisonment, that would make me stop buying sex.”

Beazley said Canada’s new anti-prostitution laws should also help female victims leave the sex trade. She hopes more money will be devoted to shelters and social agencies that help women in the sex trade.

On Wednesday, CBC News talks to sex-trade workers who choose the work and they explain why they don’t want their work to become illegal.