Red Light, Green Light: Taking a Look at Canada’s Prostitution Laws

Let’s start this week off with a bang, shall we?:)

Let’s talk about prostitution, sex trafficking, and slavery.

How’s that for a Monday morning?!

Over the weekend, Ben and I were able to attend a the showing of a documentary called “Red Light, Green Light”. It was extremely uncomfortable, and I can’t say I enjoyed it at all, but it was definitely educational and motivating.


One documentary does not make me an expert on this topic, but I’ll share what I know, and we’ll go from there!

What is the issue?

At this point, prostitution in Canada is mostly illegal. It’s a bit complicated. From the research I’ve done on the topic, what I’ve gathered is that prostitution itself is legal, but most of the stuff surrounding it is illegal:

Canada’s current prostitution laws initially intended to keep prostitution illegal. Nevertheless, the law has been played out in such a way that technically it is not illegal to be a prostitute in Canada. Many activities related to prostitution are illegal and women bear the brunt of this. Illegal activities include soliciting, procuring, living off the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house, which are found in sections 210 to 213 of the Criminal Code.

Right now, the Canadian government is looking at completely legalizing prostitution, for various reasons. The thought is that legalizing it would diminish human trafficking, and improve “safety and dignity of sex workers”.

So it seems as though we’re basically all in agreement: Human trafficking should end, women should not be forced into prostitution, and we want women to be treated with dignity.

But how this will be accomplished is where we run into problems….

What is the solution?

What I learned on Saturday is that because women are arrested for selling sex, they are afraid of going to the police. The law is working against them right now.

If prostitution is made completely legal, the idea is that these women will receive help, and human trafficking will diminish, because women will not have to fear the police.

However, there are a number of countries that have tried this approach, and it has failed:

Let’s start in Germany, where prostitution became legal in 2002. The change was backed by the Greens and Social Democrats, who aimed to strengthen women’s rights and turn prostitution into a normal profession like, say, bus conducting. So how’s that working out? Today, Germany has become “the cut-rate prostitution capital of the world,” as Time magazine puts it. It is a magnet for migrant sex workers, who are lured from their wretched villages in Bulgaria and Romania and turned into virtual sex slaves in Germany’s 3,000 brothels. Police are nearly powerless to help them. The number of prostitutes has exploded to about 200,000, and prices have been driven to rock bottom. A devastating investigation into the sex trade by Der Spiegel found that tourists can get flat-rate deals – all the sex they want – for less than $100.

The article also describes the results in the Netherlands:

The Netherlands has fared no better. When prostitution was legalized in 2000, the idea was that prostitutes would join a union and that brothels would be regulated, inspected and taxed. But much of the sex trade operates outside the regulations. Legalization has merely expanded the market and allowed the spread of brothels all over the country. Amsterdam’s red-light district has become a haven for money laundering and drugs. A 2008 Dutch National Police report said, “The idea that a clean, normal business sector has emerged is an illusion.” And a study from the London School of Economics found that human trafficking goes hand-in-hand with legalization, because legalization encourages sex tourism and vastly increases the demand for paid sex. “

If prostitution is legalized, the demand for sex goes up, and human trafficking increases, which is exactly what we don’t want, and is one of the very reasons why the Canadian government is looking at changing the laws in Canada.

If prostitution is illegal, it becomes very difficult to help victims of human trafficking, as women fear the very people who could help them.

What the producers of Red Light, Green Light researched is a third option:

Make it illegal to buy sex, but legal to sell it.

This way, the men demanding it are arrested, and the woman forced to provide it are able to go to the police for help.

Red Light, Green Light took a look at Sweden, a country that tried this approach in 1999.

The results are persuasive. Street prostitution has been cut in half. Crime and organized trafficking are down. Police say the sex trade has not gone underground. Men who might otherwise have patronized prostitutes have been scared off by the inconvenience and stigma. Many women, with the sympathetic assistance of police and social workers, have found other lines of work. Seventy per cent of Swedes support the law.

My favorite thing about this option is that it’s a third approach. It gets to the root of the problem by combining two solutions. Fortunately for us, there are other countries who have gone ahead, and given us some wonderful examples of what results are brought about by these different options.

To me, it makes sense that women would be afraid to seek help if prostitution is illegal. According to sources in Red Light, Green Light, only about 2% of sex workers are doing it because they want to. A large percentage are doing it because they have no other way to survive, and another large number are victims of human trafficking. Because of this, the prostitution laws of a country will greatly affect the demand for sex slaves.

It also makes sense that legalizing prostitution will increase the demand.

From what I understand about this situation, following Sweden’s example sounds like the best option.

How to get involved

So let’s say that you want to get involved, and you want to do what you can to stop human trafficking. What can you do?

  1. Educate yourself. There are awesome articles out there on this issue.
  2. Sign the petition. If you agree with Sweden’s approach of making it illegal to buy sex, but legal to sell it, and you would like to sign a petition so that we can try to convince the Canadian government to do the same, go here.
  3. Check out A21 Campaign’s list of practical ways to make a difference. (There are some great ideas beyond just sending money to the organization – stuff like writing a letter to a girl who’s been rescued, buying jewelry or shirts, ways to get educated, a prayer list so you know how to pray about this issue, etc, etc!)
  4. Do some reading on the Hope for the Sold site. There are a ton of great resources and blog posts available there.

I know how easy it is to skim a blog post like this, think about it for about two seconds, and then go on with your regular day. So many of us are untouched by this issue, and it’s easy to feel as though there’s not much we can do about it anyway.

But just for today, I’m going to beg to you to think about it a little longer than usual. I know it’s uncomfortable – I would rather avoid it myself, and yet North America would be a very different place if slavery hadn’t been abolished in 1865.

We are so lulled into complacency by the amazing, blessed life we live. We are too comfortable, and too safe. It makes us want to ignore issues like this.

But clicking a link to sign a petition is pretty easy, and not very time consuming, so that’s my request for you this Monday!

Sign the petition, and then go praise the Lord for the little girls in your life who can grow up safe, innocent, and free. If only it were the same for all little girls.

One thought on “Red Light, Green Light: Taking a Look at Canada’s Prostitution Laws

  1. You’re a brave woman, bringing up the HUGE and uncomfortable issues. I want to look into this further. I’ve never really thought deeply about the consequences of new laws…shows that this has never hit close to home for me. Praying that this discussion opens up among those of us who are called to help with compassion and mercy.

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