Selling sex for money is not a crime in Canada, but the current framework is failing to keep sex workers safe.
In a report released Friday, the Canadian Public Health Association called on the government to regulate the sex industry, saying that sex workers should be protected under existing occupational health and safety regulations.
CURRENT PROSTITUTION LAW
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down previous laws that prohibited sex workers from communicating for the purpose of prostitution and living in brothels, ultimately denying them safe indoor spaces for working and screening clients.
According, to the CPHA, a new act introduced in November focuses more on pimps and clients rather than the acts of sex workers themselves and restricts communication in public areas. This forces sex workers into secluded and unsafe locations, making them an easier target for violence.
(What will be Canada's new prostitution laws? Read The Globe's easy explanation)
The CPHA says current laws in Canada do not take the root causes of sex-trade participation into account. The study says that contributing factors such as poverty, homelessness, and trauma need to be dealt with from a public health approach.
It notes sex workers lack access to health and safety services, putting them at high risk of HIV and STIs. The study showed that 12 per cent of indoor sex workers in Vancouver were never tested for STI's, and 16 per cent have never been tested for HIV. Language barriers, lack of awareness, and conflicts with other life commitments were listed among reasons for not getting tested.
The report puts forth that criminalization and policing of outdoor sex work has proven to limit the control of sex workers in situations with clients, leading to physical and sexual abuse. Many don't report violence in fear of being arrested, or because they have been overlooked by professionals in the past.
For some, sex work is a choice, but for others it's a means of survival.
The report says that 86 per cent of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis sex workers in Vancouver are currently or have previously been homeless. This group is grossly overrepresented in Canada's sex trade, with one study revealing that 52 per cent of sex workers in Vancouver are First Nations, Inuit, and Métis women.
The CPHA attributes this disproportionate representation to the ongoing effects of colonization, with residential school survivors indicating that their experiences left them unfit for parenthood. The effects are passed down generations and result in dysfunctional relationships that contribute to involvement in sex work.
The report stresses the need to address previous recommendations about issues of violence against aboriginal women, noting that the government responded to a report of missing and murdered indigenous women with a five-year plan, which includes a $25-million investment in safety plans, projects to build healthy relationships, victim services, and regular progress reports.
"There is no record of their implementation, nor their effect in remedying the situation," the study says. "Now is the time to undertake a formative evaluation of these reports, and to plan for and take action on these recommendations, with the full participation of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples."
Rhode Island decriminalized indoor prostitution by accident between 2003 and 2009. During this time, according to the study, there was a 21 per cent decrease in reported rape cases, and a 39 per cent decrease in cases of female gonorrhea in the general population.
The CPHA notes the only other example of legalized prostitution in the U.S. is in Nevada, where brothels bring in $35 to $50-million revenue annually, and sex workers are provided with health check-ups and are required to use condoms. As a result, sex workers in Nevada report less violence and a high sense of security.
The Netherlands was one of the first countries to recognize prostitution as an occupation, and has seen the benefits. Employers in the sex industry must comply with labour laws, including tax and social insurance obligations.
Canada's laws resemble the Nordic model, which is used in Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway and France. The CPHA says they are largely ineffective and suffer from the same issues that plague Canada's sex workers. The purchase of sex by clients is criminalized, but report says that this doesn't resolve any issues. Instead it puts sex workers at risk, leading to more police scrutiny, stigma, and discrimination.
ADDITIONAL CPHA RECOMMENDATIONS
Exit strategy: The CPHA says sex workers who wish to leave the trade are often limited due to fear of violence, and lack of financial resources and education.
"Meaningful, appropriately resourced programs to address these needs must be developed, with the participation of past or present sex workers, which will allow sex workers to successfully transition into mainstream life," recommends the report. Such programs should not be time-limited, as the need for them will be ongoing."
Human Trafficking: The organization feels efforts to stop this illegal activity must be designed in a way as to not affect those who choose sex work freely as an occupation. It recommends resources spent on policing the criminalization of sex work could be redistributed to fight the domestic and international battle against human trafficking.