The Supreme Court of Canada rescinded Canada’s prostitution laws in December 2013 deeming them to be unconstitutional. Since then various groups, including churches, have mobilized to influence future policy making and legislation that will shape this country’s prostitution laws.

The conversation is slanted in favour of what’s called the ‘Nordic Model‘ of prostitution. In its most simplistic form the idea is to criminalize the purchase of sex (something that’s never been illegal in this country), and decriminalize the sale.

But as with all social issues, and more fundamentally a human rights issue, the reality is far more complex than the simplistic solutions offered. An infographic on prostitution stats is floating around, used as a tool to leverage the ‘Nordic Model’. What we discover if we step back is the infographic and the model don’t serve to inform on the full spectrum of the issue. Here is the infographic and some comments that will help your church or organization dialogue on the issue.

CanadaProstitution_Infograph_Final_copy

This graphic, along with various emails from politicians and lobby groups paint a very one-sided picture. When we examine issues like prostitution and human trafficking it’s important to stay grounded in the best information we have and not leverage off of sensationalized reporting.

Dr. Julie Kaye, assistant professor of sociology at Ambrose University had this to say,

Human trafficking should not be conflated with prostitution. Not all prostitution involves “force, fraud, threats, coercion” and other means of the trafficking definition. And, trafficking can occur in a variety of labour sites, such as caregiving, construction, and others. The “facts” in this infographic are also highly unreliable. For example, the RCMP no longer uses its own 600-800 figure, citing limitations on collecting data in this area. Similarly, due to the clandestine nature of human trafficking, the Department of Justice has acknowledge that it is difficult to provide accurate estimates of the number of trafficked individuals. The infographic also demonizes advocates of decriminalization suggesting they believe pimping is a legal profession. This is highly misleading at best. Most advocates of decriminalization are deeply concerned about the safety of women in sex industries, want to see “vulnerable” women protected, and often have substantial vested interest in stopping exploitation.

There are concerns about the “Nordic” model as well.

When we look at the model in a Canadian context: 1) the entire model is based on the premise that a substantial social service sector will fill the void to offer greater choice to women currently in sex industries. Canada does not have this level of social services available to vulnerable populations. Moreover, so far, the majority of resources to address human trafficking in Canada go to enforcement and not social services. I think this unlikely to change; 2) violent “Johns” are not likely to be deterred by such laws, and criminalizing their activities has the potential to result in more predatory types of sex for money behaviour to avoid new laws; 3) while claiming to not target sellers of sex, it targets their income directly without addressing the complex issues of poverty, etc. surrounding the industry. To emphasize, there is no significant social service network; 4) We already have trafficking in persons laws in the Criminal Code that address the use of threat, fraud, deception, coercion, debt bondage, etc. to exploit individuals in a variety of industries, which includes – but is not restricted to – the sex trade.

This doesn’t serve as advocacy for decriminalization or anti-“Nordic” model, but to suggest that the infographic, and many other “awareness” campaigns, require critical discussion. Ideological claims should be treated as such and not misrepresented as fact.