Archive for the ‘Prostitution’ Category

Interview with Natasha Falle from Sextrade 101

by Michelle Brock on June 3rd, 2013

NatashaNatasha Falle – a Canadian prostitution survivor who now runs an organization called Sextrade 101- recently did an interview on CBC about her experiences. She also talks about where Canada’s prostitution laws are headed.

Listen to Natasha Falle on CBC here.


There is a Supreme Court hearing scheduled for June 13 on this issue, during which over a dozen groups will be sharing their input.  This case will ultimately decide whether brothels and living off the avails of prostitution are to be legalized in Canada.  I am following this closely and will keep you posted on details as they unfold.






Q&A with an Ex-Stripper, an Ex-Porn Star and an Ex-Prostitute

by Michelle Brock on January 23rd, 2013

harmonydLast week in LA’s San Fernando Valley, where 95% of the world’s legal porn is made or distributed, Jay and I met a wonderful woman named Harmony.  Harmony used to be a stripper and now runs Treasures, an organization that comes alongside women to help them discover their worth and purpose in an industry that leaves so many empty.

Recently Harmony joined up with Crissy, an ex-porn star, and Bronwen, an ex-prostitute, to launch a short film series called X-Girls. In it, these three women answer questions about life in and after the sex industry.  (Note: I usually use the word “prostituted” instead of “prostitute,” but for this post I will let it reflect the series).

How did the three of you meet?

I met Crissy soon after she made the bold decision to walk away from porn. At that point, she was still under contract and had already signed away the rights to the content her website was using. She was making at least $15,000 a month in residual income from her website alone. After unsuccessfully trying to get them to take the site down, they asked her where they should continue to send her checks. She told them she didn’t want any money from them and decided to never take another dime from that industry. She has been courageous since the beginning and has always had a heart to use her story to inspire others. It has been an honor to be her mentor for the past 6 years.

As for Bronwen, I was in Australia at a conference and met someone who knew Bronwen. She was determined to connect us, saying “I met someone just like you! You have to meet her!”  I hear that from time to time, but in this case, it was true. In Bronwen I found a kindred friend. It’s like our heart beats to the same drum. The fact that we live on opposite sides of the globe hasn’t stood in the way of our friendship thanks to Skype and airplanes! She has become like a sister to me.

XGirls Banner1

Why did you create this series, and why now?

The strategy of Treasures has always been to reach locally and think globally. That is why we have offered Sex Industry Outreach Trainings for leaders interested in developing sex industry outreaches in their communities for the past 7 years. My desire is to see an outreach happening in every major city across the globe. So far we are up to 60 cities with Treasures-trained outreaches!

At the same time, given that there are more women in the sex industry than any other time in history, there are thousands upon thousands of women who don’t have local support. This became especially clear to us when we were featured in Glamour Magazine. We were so inundated with calls and emails from women around the world looking for help that it crashed our website, email and phone lines!

Since then, we have always been thinking about strategies that would help us reach and serve these women. When we started offering workshops for the women here in LA, a light bulb went on. I realized that if we could create something web-based on the same topics we were developing workshops for, we could reach a much broader audience. Because we believe that story is so powerful, I thought who better to be a voice in this than women who have “been there”. In order to capture a wider range of experiences, I thought it would be a good idea to get a couple of friends together who had worked in different areas of the sex industry. And that is how the idea of X Girls was birthed An x-stripper, x-porn star and an x-prostitute answering questions about the impact of the sex industry and life after sex work.

What has the response been so far?

My hope for X Girls is that not only will it reach women who don’t have the benefit of local support, but it will also be used by sex industry outreaches to facilitate support groups in their communities. To help with that we are developing a curriculum that will be released in March, 2013.

So far, the response to X Girls has been awesome! I am so thrilled to have this tool available and am really believing that it will bring breakthrough to our viewers. In just two weeks we have already had over 4,700 views. I believe that this is just the beginning!

scars and stillettos book coverYou can watch the rest of episode 1, which includes Crissy’s and Bronwen’s stories, as well as episode 2, in which the X Girls talk about “getting out and staying out” here.

Episode 3 coming soon!

If you know someone in the sex industry, or others who would be interested or encouraged by the X-Girls series, please spread the word.

For more on Treasures, you can check out their website.  Harmony has also written a book called Scars and Stillettos, which is currently sitting on my night table as my next read!

Harmony, thank you for your incredible courage, your contagious joy, and your passion to love others as you are loved.






Ontario’s Prostitution Ruling Misrepresented the Evidence, Contravening Case Law & the Charter, Scholar Finds

by Michelle Brock on July 5th, 2012

Court of AppealA scholarly paper concludes that Bedford v. Canada erroneously rewrote the law against “living on the avails of prostitution” on basis of misrepresented as well as faulty evidence, and contravenes prior Supreme Court cases and the Charter by making prostituted persons more vulnerable to exploitation.

To date, living “on the avails of prostitution of another person” has been illegal in Canada. That law was challenged in the Court of Appeal for Ontario in Bedford v. Canada on March 26, 2012. The court essentially found that the law prevented prostituted persons to benefit from third parties such as brothel management, escort agencies, bodyguards, or drivers — all whom were perceived as able to enhance the safety and well-being of prostituted persons. Hence, the avails provision was rewritten by the court, stating that it “applies only to those” who live on the avails “’in circumstances of exploitation.’”

Now, a recent working paper from Stockholm University penned by Max Waltman, a PhD Candidate at their Department of Political Science, concludes that the Court of Appeal for Ontario erroneously rewrote the law against “living on the avails of prostitution” on basis of misrepresented as well as faulty evidence, and as a result made prostituted persons more vulnerable to exploitation. The paper highlights how the Bedford ruling contravenes previous Supreme Court cases on prostitution, and is inconsistent with equality guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Waltman suggests a different decision based on the notion of equality under the Charter’s case law, which would effectively endorse the Swedish prostitution law in Canada that criminalizes purchasers and pimps, and decriminalizes prostituted persons. The case will now head to the Supreme Court. (If you are new to the Bedford ruling, and want to get caught up on the basics, you can read a clear description of the decision here.)

When the Court of Appeal for Ontario’s decision was handed down this spring I had some questions about their ruling, including the following:

  • How did the Court of Appeal come to its conclusion? What research influenced their decision? 
  • How did the decision align with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? 
  • Can the Ontario Court of Appeal’s rewrite of the Criminal Code regarding “circumstances of exploitation” prevent exploitation in prostitution effectively? 

On a hunt for some answers, I contacted Max Waltman to give me his thoughts on the ruling. Waltman has written about legal challenges to pornography and prostitution that effectively challenged them as practices violating equality and other human rights in democratic systems, focusing on judicial and legislative politics in Canada, Sweden, and the United States. He has previously published in the Michigan Journal of International Law (2011), Women’s Studies International Forum (2011), Political Research Quarterly (2010), and in the popular press, among others New York Times (2012) and the Toronto Star (2011). Waltman, who has family ties with Ontario through his late father who was brought up and spend half his life there, realized that the country and province which he previously admired for their commitment to social equality and solidarity had moved to a position where, if no one intervened, they will become the haven for traffickers and pimps across North America.

Though Waltman had initially agreed to an interview, the final result was a full, in-depth working paper that examines the evidence and arguments relied on by the Court of Appeal for Ontario. The paper finds that the evidence did not support their decision. In practice the rewrite makes prostituted people, a group which is already subject to intersectional and multiple disadvantages, even more exposed and vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Accordingly, the paper concludes that the Bedford decisions violate previous Supreme Court case law as well as they contravene the Charter’s section 15’s substantive equality guarantee, which impels a different decision. The paper further states that by upholding the existing criminalization of purchasers and third parties where they apply, and invalidating the criminalization of prostituted people — persons whom should rather be entitled to social support if the wish to leave prostitution, and rights to damages from purchasers and pimps for having violated their equality and dignity — Canada would, consistent with the Charter, promote equality and facilitate for prostituted persons to leave prostitution, which the overwhelming majority say they want. A similar law already exists in Sweden, and has reduced prostitution many times compared to neighboring countries.

I am honoured to share this paper with you, and believe its content to be of paramount importance for Canada’s decision makers on this issue. Please download the paper below, take some time to read it thoroughly, and spread it around.

download here1

You can download the full working paper from the Social Sciences Research Network here, entitled “Ontario Disempowers Prostituted Persons: Assessing Evidence, Arguments & Substantive Equality in Bedford v. Canada.” It is a great read, and the download is FREE!


This is exactly the kind of analysis we need as the issue of prostitution moves to the Supreme Court of Canada.  Thank you, Max, for taking the time to write such a well-researched, thorough piece, to better equip us to prevent sex trafficking and exploitation in this country.






An Escort’s Story

by Michelle Brock on September 12th, 2011

escort service ad

Escort Service Recruitment Ad

Ruhama, an organization that helps women affected by prostitution and sex trafficking in Ireland, published a report last year with statistics and stories. I will summarize their findings in another post, but wanted to share one story from an ex-escort.   I’ve included the piece of the report that sets some context below, followed by the story.

One of the greatest myths about prostitution is that there is somehow a difference between prostitution generally and escorting, where it is claimed that men are paying for a woman’s company and time. This is  dispelled powerfully by the testimony, published in this report, of Amy* who was an escort and who reveals exactly what the experience was like for her. This is her own personal story in her own words; however, the themes echo those of many of the women Ruhama works with and we have chosen to publish her entire testimony as a part of this report with her permission. (*the only word changed in this first hand testimony is the name to protect confidentiality).

I began escorting officially when I was 20, although technically it began when I was a teenager but I didn’t really know that was actually what it was. When I was 16 I had met a man in his thirties that paid me to do things for him and his friends but never said it was prostitution or anything. He had me totally in his control, psychologically, so that I would do anything for him and be extremely worried and anxious about not making him happy. This went on for a few years. When I finally got rid of him, I began escorting on my own.

I could say this was a choice, it was, a freely made one. However considering the background of rape and sexual abuse that lasted about three years, looking back, I can see how vulnerable I was and how I was emotionally not stable enough to be making that kind of ‘choice’. I thought being a prostitute would help me regain my sexual power over men. I never had any control and I thought this was the answer, and a way to ‘get back’ at the man who raped me and the other man who manipulated me into being his plaything, basically. Also because of these experiences I had put all of myself worth into my sexuality and how I looked and judged myself on how much I attracted men.

man euros

Without this experience there is absolutely no way that I would’ve become involved in the sex industry. When I started escorting on my own, it felt okay at the beginning; I liked the feeling of being in ‘control’ of the men, and ‘using’ them for their money, but I soon started realising that my plan to be in control had backfired, that actually the men were in control and had the power, and they weren’t afraid to show me that they were the ones in charge. I felt disgusting after most times I met with a punter. They pressured me into doing things I didn’t want to do by promising me more money. They used language that both made me want to please them and disgusted me at the same time.

You could say that I could’ve stopped at any moment. That is true, but I didn’t have the emotional tools to be able to stop. My past had the biggest hold on me and I hadn’t even started processing it. At that stage I still didn’t think of it as abusive behaviour.

For me, I needed the attention of men to make me feel more ‘okay’, I needed to feel wanted in that kind of way, I needed the constant (but short lived) ego boost that it gave me. I was in a vicious circle of having a rock bottom self esteem and hating what I was doing, but needing the attention at the same time to make me feel better. I had an extremely skewed view of myself. I attempted suicide twice.

I got sucked into the online world of escorting and felt like what I was doing was normal. This went on, and off, for about four years or so. I was pretty shy, but pretending to be super confident and I think the punters could see through that most of the time. Now, looking back, the scariest thing is the punters and how they treated me and talked to me. I am disgusted to think back to the 40 something year old men would happy pressure me into doing things, knowing that I was only 21, knowing in their hearts that it isn’t normal or healthy to buy sex.

I was pretty naive and the guys all just think that you’ve been doing it for ages and you’re ‘used to it’. They have no idea how dangerous and scary the escorting world is, they are all deluded by the few ‘happy hookers’ that talk on the websites all the time, they think these girls are the only type of girls that exist.

young man at computer460That men will write ‘reviews’ of their time having sex with a girl is the most disturbing part of the whole thing, apart from the fact that they are punters in the first place of course. That it is apparently normal on the website to tick girls off in relation to the way they have sex is insane. The men write things like ‘she was a bit mechanical’, and ‘she wanted me in and out as fast as possible’ and they give her a bad review because she wasn’t ‘into it’. Did they ever stop to ask themselves why she wasn’t into it? That maybe she didn’t want to be there? Instead of asking the girl if she is okay and why isn’t she happy, they run home to their precious internet to tell all the other punters about the terribly trauma of visiting a prostitute who hates her job. It’s so sad. It’s just a bunch of pathetic men showing off to each other online. If you tell a lie that others want to believe then they’re going to use that and delude themselves and each other. This is what all punters and the escorts that use the websites do. Everyone is lying to each other and it’s easier to believe the lies than question what they are doing. When you tell punters about the reality, they get suddenly very defensive and don’t want to talk to you anymore.

Finally I had a punter that verged on behaving in an illegal way and it was the reality check I needed to stop properly. It was the worst I’ve ever been treated, but I’m glad it happened, because there were no lies I could tell myself about that encounter, there was no way to justify it, so I had to admit honestly to myself that the reality of the situation. To this man I wasn’t even a human. I wasn’t just ‘unlucky’, being treated like that was a daily threat and most of the punters treated me in a similar way.

On the website I used to advertise on, the punters were often giving out about ‘Ruhama’, I had never heard of it before. I went on the Ruhama website and sent an email, within hours I got a phone call back and a couple of days later a phone call from a case worker to arrange to meet. I felt such relief to meet with her and talk to someone that truly understood my experience that I was nearly crying the entire time.

Now I’m avoiding any relationships with men, it’s been a year and a half since I stopped but I’m not emotionally able to have any kind of a relationship. I don’t trust men. I worry that all new men I meet have visited prostitutes, or are okay with the idea of prostitution. I have great male friends, and I’m so thankful for having them, but when it comes to sexual relationships, I still use sex to get what I want (ie, love) and I still am not secure enough at all to be on equal terms with a man. I’ll always think there’s a catch to his affection.

I read somewhere that two thirds of prostitutes have pasts of abuse, emotional abuse, incest or rape. How could an industry that mostly attracts that kind of damaged person be socially acceptable? Women and men will never be equal as long as prostitution exists, it shouldn’t be acceptable to buy women for sex, not if we care about each other, and not if we care about what we want our society to be like.”

I certainly agree that if we actually thought about what we want our society to look like and cared more about each other as human beings with dignity and worth, prostitution would not exist.  You can read Ruhama’s full report here, and get info on the documentary we are making about the prostitution industry here.

Michelle Brock


So I Got An Email From a John This Week…

by Michelle Brock on July 7th, 2011

thought cloudI get quite a bit of interesting feedback from this blog, and one group of individuals is particularly eager to send in their thoughts: Johns.  For those of you who are unfamilar with the term, Johns are men who use prostituted women.  As such, they are the ones who fuel the demand for paid sex and make trafficking profitable for pimps and traffickers.

I’ll have you know that I usually delete these comments when I get them, because they are disturbing, disgusting, and not worth my time.  But I thought I would share one comment I received recently, to show you how these guys think.  If we are to help the exploited, we must have at least a basic understanding of what motivates the men who exploit them.  Here is what one man writes:

I don’t care if you women get mad at me or not. If an attractive (to me) woman were available to me with the most ideal physical looks and personality that I would marry, then I would marry and not cheat and not use a prostitute. In reality, most women are not that attractive, especially the average woman whatever that is or means.

In reality, most women have a relatively low libido. Men end-up sexually frustrated. Congressman John Edwards cheated. Former governor and actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger cheated. Former IMF chief, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, cheated. In the past, men have cheated, men ARE cheating, and men WILL CONTINUE to cheat until the female population has been bred and culled into the most ideal such that cheating and prostitution are eliminated. The key word here is ‘until’ and both sexes/genders can make it happen sooner or a lot later by cooperating or otherwise.

As you know, we’re currently in Great Recession that (as the media had stated) had ended in 2009. I don’t see a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel, so the next phase is logically a Great Depression or, to distinguish from the last depression, a Great-ER Depression and, with that, women will (as before) have no alternative and no exit strategy.

If I had (at home) a clean drug/disease-free, tattoo-free, addiction/vice-free June Cleaver with perky/firm natural C cups, some curves, beautiful without makeup, with an intelligent/logical brain with which to converse with as a husband and wife should do you really think I’m going to look out on the street for a Jane Doe to hump for money?  There is demand for prostitution for a reason: not enough supply.

Surprised? This is exactly the kind of thinking that traffickers and pimps use to their advantage. Makes my blood boil.

  • This guy talks about women as if they are commodities for men to use as they wish.  This implies women have no opinions, preferences, or wishes themselves, but solely exist for man’s pleasure and fantasy.
  • He picks and chooses his ideal traits from women as a whole and expects one woman to have them all if he is to be faithful to her.  Notice how he never mentions what qualities men should have to deserve a woman’s affection.
  • “Men will continue to cheat until women have been bred and culled into the ideal form???”  Sounds like Hitler.  It scares me that this way of thinking is still around.
  • Just because the economy always leaves vulnerable people in its wake does not give him an excuse to take advantage of them.
  • To answer his last question, yes, he would still look for prostituted women even if he had the ideal girl at home because she would never be enough.  When you become this selfish, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.
  • FYI: there is demand for prostitution because guys like this don’t care who they hurt as long as they get what they want, not because of “lack of supply.”

respect women 1And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of guy that is using and abusing victims of sex trafficking. It sickens me, saddens me, and enrages me. How can we, as a society, change the way guys like this think?  Do you think it’s too late?  Where do you think this man learned to view women this way?  Do you think he would care if he found out the girl he was with was a victim of sex trafficking?  How does such a worldview impact communities?

Would love to hear your thoughts and your reaction to this letter.  Anyone else disturbed? What can we do about it?

Michelle Brock


Dear Rob Ford – My Letter to the Mayor of Toronto

by Michelle Brock on April 11th, 2011

rsz canadapost1Last week I wrote a post about Toronto councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal to create a red light district on Toronto Island. You can read it here. As promised, here is my letter to the Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, regarding Mammoliti’s proposal.

*Update: Mayor Ford’s response below!*

Dear Mayor Rob Ford,

My name is Michelle Brock and I am a documentary film maker and writer at, a blog about sex trafficking. I am also an Ontario resident. I recently had several concerned readers contact me in regard to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal of having a red light district on Toronto Island. From what I understand, Mammoliti is currently preparing a report on the matter, which he plans to bring to your attention sometime this spring.

Though regulating brothels would provide the city with some tax revenue, I would like to present you with the negative consequences of a regulated, legal prostitution industry. The proposed location adds its own set of repercussions.

Amsterdam is often heralded as an example of how a government can regulate the prostitution industry. Though the Amsterdam government had thought legalization and regulation would make organized crime easier to control and women safer within the industry, the opposite has proven true.

In 2003, a mere 3 years after the brothel ban was lifted, the City Council realized their actions had invited Nigerian and Estonian criminal groups into the area. Because legalization increased demand for paid sex and men from all over the world flocked to the region, human traffickers saw an opportunity to fill the supply side. Trafficking comes in threes – people, drugs, and guns – and the mayor of Amsterdam has called their decision to legalize an abysmal failure. The city is now back tracking by shutting down big sections of the red light district.

Project SECLUSION in Canada has found human trafficking suspects to be linked to other organized criminal activites such as conspiracy to commit murder, credit card fraud, mortgage fraud, immigration fraud, and organized prostitution, in Canada or abroad. We do not want more of these people flocking to Toronto.

Once demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Illegal brothels, massage parlours, and strip clubs would spring up in other parts of Toronto as well. Following legalization in Victoria, Australia, illegal establishments quickly outnumbered legal ones at a rate of three and four to one. Escort services out of private residences and hotels are becoming the new mode of prostitution, which is almost impossible to regulate.

I understand that if Justice Himel’s ruling to strike down prostitution laws stands up to the appeal, you will be in the difficult position of having to make decisions about regulating such an industry in Toronto. To avoid this position, I would encourage you to speak up against the legalization movement. If the ruling does stand up however, I strongly advise you, on behalf of the anti-trafficking community, not to accept Mammoliti’s proposal of creating a red light district on Toronto Island. Though legalized prostitution would itself increase demand for paid sex, a sex island would increase it even more dramatically due to its novelty. Because demand for paid sex is an opportunity for human traffickers and pimps to provide supply, a red light district to increase tax revenue is not a wise move.

In contrast to legalization or full decriminalization of prostitution, Sweden’s approach has significantly cut down human trafficking levels. It has criminalized the purchase of sex while decriminalizing the selling of it. Women are offered exit programs. This has decreased demand for paid sex, reducing monetary incentives for traffickers to set up shop. Because its success has encouraged other countries to adopt it, this approach is now known as the “Nordic Model.” This is the direction we should be headed.

The costs outweigh the benefits when a regulated red light district becomes a tourist attraction. Tax revenue is not worth it in the long run when organized crime sees an opportunity to make money too.

I hope this gives you some points to think about regarding Mammoliti’s proposal. Thank you for your service and dedication to Toronto. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or want more information!

Michelle Brock

***UPDATE: Response from Mayor Rob Ford***

Dear Michelle,  

Thank you for sharing your thoughts about a Toronto Island red light district.

Councillor Mammoliti has said publicly he believes that if there were to be a “red light district” established in the City of Toronto, it should be on Toronto Island. This is an issue the Councillor has brought up in the past, and the idea is his own. I personally do not support the idea of brothels or a red light district being built on Toronto Island.

Thank you again for taking the time to express your comments and concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact my office at any time.

Yours truly,  Mayor Rob Ford, City of Toronto

This is GREAT news!  Thank you Mayor Ford for responding so quickly.  We are delighted to hear that you do not support Mammoliti’s proposal.

To HFTS readers, you can still write a letter to Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti to inform him of the dark side of a ‘regulated’ red light district on Toronto Island.  His contact information can be found here.

Michelle Brock


Toronto Island to Become Red Light District?

by Michelle Brock on March 28th, 2011

Georgio M1 300x224Some concerned HFTS readers recently sent me articles about a shocking proposal coming from Toronto Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti:  the creation of a red light district on Toronto Island.  This really should not come as a surprise, as a regulated brothel district was one of Mammoliti’s central campaign tenets in his (cut-short) run for mayor last year.

His argument?  It would provide millions of dollars in revenue for the city and provide a well-defined area where the sex trade can flourish.  Mammoliti told CBC news that such a place would increase Toronto tourism as well, and is planning to discuss it with Toronto’s mayor Rob Ford soon.

In response to these developments, I am writing a letter to both the councillor and the mayor (you can read it here).  I would encourage our readers, especially those living in Toronto, to write to them as well.  Contact information for Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti is:

TorontoIsland1Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite B27
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Mayor Rob Ford’s contact information is:

Office of the Mayor
Toronto City Hall,
2nd Floor,
100 Queen St. West,
Toronto ON M5H 2N2
[email protected]

Here are some points you can include in your letter:

  • Though a sex island would probably increase tourism, are large groups of men seeking paid sex the kind of tourist we want more of?
  • When Amsterdam lifted its brothel ban and began a regulated prostitution industry, sex trafficking became easier and organized criminal groups moved into the area.  The City Council has since tried to back track by shutting down huge sections of the red light district and the mayor has called the lifting of the brothel ban an abysmal failure.
  • When demand for paid sex begins to increase, it will be impossible to contain it to an island. Brothels, massage parlours, and escort services will likely spring up in other parts of Toronto as well.

I will give Mammoliti the benefit of the doubt that he is simply seeking tax revenues and is unaware of the implications a red light district would have on Toronto Island and the rest of the city as well.  Now it is our responsibility to tell him that the big picture looks very different, and that increasing demand for paid sex is a recipe for more sex trafficking, exploitation of women, and organized crime.  An island like the one proposed would draw crowds for the novelty of it, and it would be difficult to back track later on.

For articles on Giorgio Mammoliti’s proposal, check these out:

write letter1 300x199Get more informed on the legalization debate – this will help you as you write your letters/emails. You can also download and sign this letter from EVE and send it to your member of Parliament.  Special thanks to Carly Romano for raising this to my attention and dialogging with me this weekend!

**Update: read my letter to Mayor Ford and his response here**  Read more about legalization of prostitution in Ontario here.

**Read about the Ontario Court of Appeal’s ruling on prostitution (spring of 2012), as well as Max Waltman’s explanation on how it was based on misrepresented evidence.

September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models that decrease sexual exploitation.  Here is how you can help!




Should Canada Legalize Prostitution? Panel Discussion with Gunilla Ekberg, Lee Lakeman & Trisha Baptie

by Michelle Brock on March 14th, 2011

swedish law 225x300If you have watched our film on sex trafficking in Canada, you will recognize the “Swedish model” as a strategy that has worked to curb sex trafficking and the exploitation of women in Sweden.  In 1999 Swedish government criminalized the purchase of sexual services and decriminalized those selling it, ensuring that men would be held responsible for prostitution and that women would have access to exit programs.  Due to its success, the law has been adopted in other Nordic countries.

Gunilla Ekberg, who played a key role in creating the Swedish model, is one of my favourite researchers and a well sought-after human rights consultant.  You can imagine my delight upon discovering that she was headed to BC!

womens day 266x300On International Women’s Day last week, I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion in Victoria entitled “Prostitution and Women’s Equality: Imagining More for Women,” organized by EVE (Formerly Exploited Voices now Educating) and REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity).  The panel consisted of Gunilla Ekberg, EVE’s Trisha Baptie, and and Lee Lakeman from the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres.  Prostitution law was the topic at hand, which is quite timely in light of the Bedford case and the push for legalization of prostitution in Canada.


  • Trisha Baptie, who worked in the sex trade (both indoor and outdoor) for 15 years, kicked off the discussion by sharing that prostitution is violence against women that is “born out of sexism, classism, racism, poverty, and other forms of systemic oppression.”
  • crisis phone1 300x225Lee Lakeman spoke about her experience answering crisis calls at sexual assault centres, explaining how social service cuts in the BC area led to more calls from prostituted women.
  • The descriptions given by trafficking victims and “local prostituted women” were always similar.  This trend pushed rape crisis centres to take an official position on the prostitution issue.
  • Due to the physical harm on the body and how paid sex contributes to the dehumanization of women, they believe that prostitution is violence against women and should not be legalized. Lakeman suggested that as a country we must look at how poverty and racism play into prostitution, and to not lord our wealth over other countries but forgive debts and build foreign aid to protect the vulnerable around the world.

Gunilla Ekberg, who participated in the negotiations at the UN Palermo Protocol and has directed several national and multilateral projects to combat human trafficking in the EU, had the following to say:

  • Many pro-prostitution groups use Germany and the Netherlands as examples of where Canada should head regarding prostitution law.  Both countries have decriminalized prostitution, making it legal to buy sex.  Instead of proving that this approach works, these two countries are actually a case in point of how legalization fails to protect women, decrease trafficking, or curtail organized crime.
  • amsterdamOn October 1, 2000, the Dutch Parliament decided to remove the provision in the criminal code that criminalized the brothel.  This came after 20 years of debate on how one would control organized prostitution.  The lifting of the brothel ban created a new economic sector, allowing anyone to establish a brothel, escort service, or massage parlour by simply applying for a license from the municipality.  The municipality cannot refuse such requests, and in fact many brothels are even found in farm houses.
  • Contrary to popular belief, almost all those in brothels are independent contractors. They can easily receive a license, most regions simply requiring show of ID and a payment.  As independent contractors, their well-being is not guaranteed by the brothel owners. Many brothel owners have said in interviews that what happens behind the door is not their responsibility as long as it does not interfere with the commerce of the brothel.
  • Though some rooms have a panic button, women struggle getting to it when they are in danger with a violent man.  Some in Canada argue that indoor prostitution is safer that street prostitution. But it is not the place that harms you – it is those who are paying for your body that cause harm.
  • When you have a legal sector, police back off, and traffickers are drawn to the area. In 2003 and 2004, Amsterdam City Council realized that they had invited Estonian and Nigerian ‘mafia’ into the area, who can easily get girls into the country with ‘tourist’ visas.
  • CORPORATE SPEECH 300x235In an effort to have more control, the government said that girls need to meet with a social worker before getting a license.  A Turkish pimp who owned 100 brothels in the Netherlands sued the government for this mandate, on the basis that such an initiative would hinder his profits under corporate law. When you legalize prostitution, you enable organized criminal groups to establish corporations with rights to sue the government over lost profit. Is this what we want in Canada?
  • Germany lifted their brothel ban in 2001.  To improve conditions for those in prostitution, they offered special social insurance benefits to those who wanted it.  The first evaluation of the law found that most of the women in the legal sector were from other countries. The second evaluation showed that the conditions of those in prostitution had not changed, and in 5 years only a handful of women (about 5) had taken advantage of the special social insurance benefits. In addition to this, the new law did not help women exit prostitution.  The law had failed to do what they had hoped.
  • Therefore the German government finds itself in the same situation as the Netherlands. Traffickers have organized large brothel conglomerates with the rights of corporations, and both countries are trying to backtrack.  Is this what we want for Canada?

This can be contrasted to the approach Sweden took in 1998.  From 1994 to 1998, the percentage of women in Parliament rose from 27% to 47%.  The law they created, which criminalized the purchaser of sex, addressed the narcissistic sexual behaviour of men.  How has this worked?

swedish model end demand1

  • When the law came into effect, police in Demark noticed that traffickers were setting up shop there instead.  This demonstrates that traffickers try to avoid places with hostile laws regarding prostitution.
  • Pimps, traffickers, and johns are convicted together in one trial, so that the victim only has to testify once.  This ensures efficiency in the system and protects the victim from even more emotional trauma.
  • One woman from Russia was trafficked and sold around apartments in Stockholm.  She was forced to service over 500 men in 3 weeks, and said afterward that if it had not been for the law, she would have been dead.  The law made them stop the abuse and helped her to realize she had value.
  • Violators of the law are dealt with swiftly, whether they are well-known or not.  Two famous football players, a police chief, a lawyer, two politicians, a CEO of International Securitus, and a Supreme Court judge, are among those who have been convicted recently.
  • Twelve years after this law came into effect, a special government inquiry, led by the chancellor of justice (highest legal position in Sweden) was conducted.  It found that the number of people in street prostitution had halved since 1998.  In comparison to neighbouring Denmark (which does not have such a law), Sweden’s market for paid sex had plummeted.
  • When asked about deterrence, the majority of men responded that legislation or public shame would deter them from paying for sex. This shows that the law can help change behaviour of some.

canada can do better2Instead of backtracking, like Germany and the Netherlands, Sweden is taking these laws further.  A new bill is coming into effect on July 1, extending prison terms for men who are convicted under the law.

Ekberg was hoping that the bill would also enable the courts to convict Swedish men who pay for sex in other countries with a similar prostitution law, but that portion did not pass.  “Next battle!” she says.

The event ended off with some discussion and questions, including a statement from one person arguing that women should have the right to prostitute themselves, and that prostitution and trafficking were not the same thing.  To this, Lee Lakeman replied: “The brilliance of patriarchy is disintegration of issues,” and Trisha Baptie questioned:  “Why are we standing for our individual right to prostitute instead of standing with our sisters?”

maple leafThank you Gunilla, Trisha, and Lee for sharing your experience and expertise with us, and for showing us that Canada can do better for prostituted women.

For more reading, check out Max Waltman’s article:  “Prohibiting Purchase of Sex in Sweden: Impact, Obstacles, Potential, and Supporting Escape”, and a Solutions Journal article entitled “The Swedish Approach: A European Union Country Fights Sex Trafficking”.

You can also get more information about the legalization debate at the EVE and REED websites.

What do you think about the Swedish model? About legalization?  If you attended the event, either in Victoria or Vancouver, I would also love to hear your thoughts below.

**September 2012 update: we are making a documentary about legalization of prostitution, its connection to sex trafficking, and preventative models around the world that work to decrease sexual exploitation and demand for paid sex.  We need your help to reach our funding goal for this project!  Find out more here.  All donations receive tax receipts.

Michelle Brock


A Graphic Tells the Story: Prostitution Statistics

by Michelle Brock on January 31st, 2011

statistics1I am usually wary of statistics about prostitution and sex trafficking because organized crime and clandestine behaviour are difficult to measure. But I recently came across this Online Schools infographic (below) about prostitution and couldn’t help but share it with you.  The sources, some more reliable than others, are listed on the bottom.

I personally don’t like the language that is used.  40 million prostitutes at work implies that 40 million women and girls chose their profession, while in reality most want out but have no exit strategy.  I am also disturbed that the majority of people arrested for solicitation are women, while johns create the demand.

What do you think about these statistics?  Are you surprised by any of them?  Are there any you find hard to believe?

Side note: Tara Teng, a passionate abolitionist and advocate for victims of trafficking, just won the title of Miss Canada this weekend!  Check out my recent interview with Tara to see why her accomplishment is so good for the vulnerable around the world.

Michelle Brock




Prostitution Law for Dummies: Ontario’s Recent Court Ruling in 9 Simple Points

by Michelle Brock on October 5th, 2010


The last seven days have been kind of a big deal in Ontario when it comes to human trafficking and prostitution.  If you have somehow missed it in the news or are unclear as to what actually happened last week, here is a list of the basics you must know.

  • Two sex trade workers, Terry-Jean Bedford and Valerie Scott (along with Amy Lebovitch and their lawyer Alan Young), launched a constitutional challenge of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.  In simple terms, they want prostitution and everything surrounding the actual act to be decriminalized. This would make prostitution legal, allowing sex workers to operate freely. (To be more precise, the process of prostitution would be allowed.  Check out what John posted in the comments section to understand this more).
  • Last week on September 28th the Ontario Superior Court ruled in favour of their proposal.  As a result, now in Ontario it is no longer illegal to keep a bawdy house (brothel), communicate for the purposes of prostitution, or live off the avails of the sex trade.
  • Bedford said that is was like emancipation day for sex workers, because now they can work from the safety of their homes instead of facing the dangers of the street.  Valerie Scott said that now sex workers can “pick up the phone and call the police to report a bad client.”
  • Not everyone is celebrating.  Many claim that prostitution and sex trafficking are linked. MP Joy Smith, who works with victims of trafficking, had girls call her in tears when they found out about the Ontario court ruling.
  • Police point out that in some cases trafficking victims are unwilling to cooperate with police because they fear their traffickers.  In such cases, police have been able to charge the trafficker with living off the avails of prostitution.  Now they can no longer do this.  This means that pimps cannot be charged for living off the money that their girls bring them through forced prostitution.
  • Some argue that prostitution is a chosen profession, just like any other.  However several studies show that most ‘sex workers’ chose their ‘profession’  because of dire circumstances that were not based on real choice at all.  Many are too drug-addicted and manipulated by pimps to make their own decisions.  Benjamin Perrin points out in his CBC radio interview and Globe and Mail article that though Bedford is a confident woman in her 50s today, her affidavit tells the story of a childhood filled with physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.  At 16 years old while she was under provincial child protection, she met “an abusive 37-year old drug dealer and drug addict” and was sold for sex to fund their drug addictions.
  • Anti-trafficking groups want Canada to adopt the Swedish model of dealing with prostitution, which criminalizes the men who buy sex and offers the sellers of it with help to leave the industry.
  • Justice Susan Himel, who made the court decision, stated that the information about sex trafficking brought to her attention was “incidental and not directly relevant to her decision.”  In other words, she does not believe there to be a link at all between prostitution and sex trafficking.
  • The federal government is going to appeal the court ruling in an attempt to reverse the decision made by Himel.

The debate about prostitution and human trafficking in Canada is going to be quite a hot one for a while.  Here are a couple of resources that can help you gain an understanding about the ruling and the prostitution debate.

I promise to keep you up to date with how this develops.  What do you think about the Ontario court ruling?  Feel free to post a comment to kick off the conversation!

Michelle Brock