Target johns in prostitution debate, urges MP

  • October 4, 2010
Conservative MP Joy SmithOTTAWA - An Ontario court decision striking down three key prostitution laws shows the need for a national debate on the issue that includes looking at laws to prosecute johns, says Conservative MP Joy Smith, an expert on human trafficking.

Smith has urged her government to study Swedish laws which have tackled the problem by prosecuting the clients of prostitutes, the johns. Sweden reduced prostitution by 30-50 per cent from 1999-2004 and substantially cut the number of women trafficked into the country, she said.

On Sept. 26 an Ontario Superior Court struck down laws that had prohibited keeping a common bawdy house, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living on the avails of prostitution. The federal government has appealed the decision.

Smith, who recently published a detailed national strategy to combat human trafficking, said she was troubled by the decision because she believes the laws against solicitation, keeping a bawdy house and living off the avails protect prostitutes, not put them in harm's way, as the decision argued.

“Maybe we can look at this and make our laws even better,” Smith said.

Smith sees prostitution as one of the key vectors for the modern day slave trade. Some older women may choose to go into prostitution, Smith said, but the average age of most sex-trade workers is 14-16, an age where they are not legally capable of consent.

“I am hoping Canadians will demand laws are put in place,” she said.

Countries that have legalized and regulated prostitution, such as the Netherlands and Australia, have seen an increase in illegal prostitution, trafficking of women and children, organized crime and violence against sex trade workers, she said.

Since Sweden started targeting johns, the Swedish National Criminal Investigation Dept. estimates between 400-600 women are trafficked into Sweden each year. That compares to some 10,000 to 15,000 women forced into prostitution and trafficked annually into Finland from Russia, Latvia and other former Soviet countries.

“We can’t let this decision stand,” said Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC) research and communications director Andrea Mrozek, who also advocates the adoption of the Swedish model. “It’s not an option; it’s not good for our culture, our society or our families.”

Like Smith, Mrozek sees prostitution and human trafficking linked “hand in hand.”

“We should be able to say some things are wrong,” Mrozek said.  “The court decision seems to indicate that there is nothing wrong with prostitution.”

Though she recognizes that what is legal is not always moral, she said the law should provide a “tight and a strong frame” for society to flourish with as much liberty as possible. The Swedish laws against prostitution send a signal that it is harmful to everyone involved, she said.

“They try to cut off demand by prosecuting the buyer,” she said, noting that clients can receive jail terms.

“If you’re going to spend time in jail, you might think twice before going to pay for someone’s body,” she said.

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