Communiqué: CLES says NO to the violence of prostitution

Montreal, December 17, 2007 – December 17 has been declared the International Day to End Violence Against Women in Prostitution. The members of the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES) wish to acknowledge this event and reiterate their rejection of all forms of violence exerted, here and elsewhere in the world, against women and girls who find themselves in situations of prostitution. We denounce the psychological, sexual, physical, judicial and symbolic violence exerted against them – as against countless women in a patriarchal society – but we also denounce the judicial and social repression experienced by women in prostitution.

This violence occurs because our society would rather harass and criminalize these women than take on the people who are the source of these forms of violence, that is pimps and clients. The current application of laws and regulations, at all three levels of government, focuses on criminalizing women rather than challenging clients and pimps. These last enjoy various forms of inaction and complicity, and therefore feel entirely entitled to treat persons in prostitution as a source of profits and gratification.

In the view of the various organizations and individuals belonging to the CLES, current attempts to have procuring and brothels decriminalized or legalized would only worsen this violence by legitimizing the commercial sexual exploitation of women. Assault statistics indicate that pimps and clients are no less misogynist and violent behind closed doors than in street prostitution. The evidence presented during Robert Pickton’s trial establishes that his B.C. farm was essentially a brothel ; Pickton has admitted having killed 49 women. In Quebec, at least 5 of the 14 women in prostitution murdered by men over the last ten years were employed by escort agencies, brothels, swingers clubs, bars, or visited buyers of “sexual services”. This organized violence must end.

The solution is not to normalize the prostitution industry – as some are demanding – but to target and challenge male “demand” for it. CLES is adamant that a world without prostitution is possible. Recent developments in countries such as Sweden establish that, rather than criminalizing women in situations of prostitution, it is much more effective to offer them substantive solutions by a) no longer arresting them, b) truly answering their needs, and c) punishing their exploiters. Moreover, situating the institution of prostitution in the continuum of violence against women allows society to build solutions aimed at substantive equality for all women.

This substantive support is the one long demanded by impoverished, homeless, immigrant and drug-dependant women, who constitute the majority of the women locked in situations of human trafficking and survival prostitution. They require psychological support services, access to affordable housing and child care, detox facilities, return to school programs, the possibility of joining the workplace in satisfying jobs, income security, access to justice and simplified immigration procedures.

Created in March 2005, CLES is composed of front-line workers, academic researchers, authors and representatives of community and faith organizations. We all do popular education and advocacy work for people struggling with prostitution, a form of violence that is the polar opposite of equality between women and men, whether it happens on the street or via ‘escort’ agencies, ‘erotic’ massage parlors, ‘specialized’ bars or brothels, or via pornography or the Internet. Prostitution especially impacts women who experience multiple forms of marginalization (poor, racialized, migrants, Aboriginal, teenagers, survivors of incest or rape, etc.)

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