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Women's coalition to argue for punishing buyers, not prostitutes, in upcoming case

The Women's Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution will advocate against the decriminalization of the sex trade when they intervene in a case that is challenging Canada's prostitution laws, but will ask that prostitutes themselves not be punished, representatives announced today.

In the upcoming Supreme Court of Canada case which follows several lower court rulings on Canada's prostitution laws, the group will push for the criminalization of both pimps and johns, meaning those who organize the trade and those who buy.

According to Janine Benedet, the counsel of the organization which represents, among others, the Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and Vancouver Rape Relief, prostitution constitutes a practice of "sex discrimination," and fully legalizing it would allow men to "buy women at will."

Prostitution in Canada is legal, but various activities surrounding it -- including running a brothel, pimping, and communicating for the purposes of prostitution -- are not. Previous rulings in the case have resulted in the legalization of indoor prostitution, but sex work on the streets is still illegal.

For Trisha Baptie, a former sex trade worker and the founder of a non-profit organization advocating for prostitution's abolition, legalizing sex work indoors will not enhance the safety of sex trade workers and should be also banned.

"We know women … who have saw just as much violence indoors as you do outdoors," Baptie said. "The only thing is that it's hidden behind close doors and [is] actually harder to identify."

Sex trade laws that decriminalize women but criminalize both pimps and johns have been implemented in countries like Sweden, Norway, and Iceland. According to Benedet, the usually called "Nordic model" has proved to be effective.

"[Countries that have adopted the Nordic model] have become a really unattractive destination for pimps and sex traffickers," she said. "As a result, the number of women that have the greatest risk of being trafficked into prostitution have decreased substantially."

The coalition will also advocate for increased social services including better welfare, rates, education opportunities, and transition houses in an effort to encourage women to leave the sex trade industry.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on June 13.

Carlos Tello is completing a practicum at The Tyee.

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