May 26, 2017 – Post by Damon Mak

Picture a full bus load of men coming to Vancouver.  And instead of going on a cruise together or sight-seeing, they come to Vancouver to buy sex from exploited women and children.

That was the essence of a comment made by one of the attendees in a conversation I had after the breakfast talk on Human Trafficking hosted by City in Focus last Friday.  

On the panel that morning was Cathy Peters (International Anti-Human Trafficking Advocate), Phil Reilly (Director of Development and Mobilization for IJM, BC), Sister Nancy Brown (Covenant House), and Gwendoline Allison (Foy Allison Law).  The discussion was mediated by Tom Cooper.

Surely human trafficking cannot be that big of a problem here in our beautiful city? We would be naïve to believe that the ads in the local newspapers for nail parlors, escorts and massage services are what they advertise.  Those are the services that publicly advertised; with the emergence of the Internet, many of those services have gone underground.  

Some other comments from the morning:

  • 20% of the prostitutes (women and men) are from the streets, and 80% from the Internet.  
  • 50% of those women are aboriginals.  
  • Globally, the sex industry accounts for $120-150 Billion USD which affects approximately 2 million children who are exploited for profit.   
  • Vancouver is the largest Sugar Daddy city.  
  • There is a child pornography problem right in the city.
  • Canada has the top 3 sites for hosting material for cyber sex trafficking.

With sex trafficking affecting so many people and of such big magnitude, why is there so little being said by our media?  It’s not difficult to deduce why.

The solution is not easy nor simple. It is multi-faceted and complex.  As our panelists pointed out, “Without addressing the demand for buying sex, we cannot hope to reduce the supply of victimized people.”  The way forward does begin locally, here in our city.  Change begins with raising awareness, increased enforcement and improved laws, education, and the pulpit.  

Need for greater awareness.  Without reports to the police, the crime hasn’t been committed; that is one of the reasons why media doesn’t talk about it.  To simply advocate that the victims go to police and report the problem is also to dismiss the emotions especially fears of a each person who are traumatized by their perpetrators.  Our society has turned prostitution into a choice–a choice of work or choice of the individual.  However, if you are poor–it is neither a choice nor is it work.  We need to name it for what it is–exploitation.

There is also a need for increased police involvement and enforcement of the law.  This will obviously require the review of our existing laws around the selling of sex and buyers of sex. It was troubling to hear a comment made during the session that the police often are not (and cannot be?) involved unless a girl goes missing, or has died from an incident.  In Vancouver, there is yet to be a someone charged for the crime.   The directive to take action needs to come from the top levels of our government and lead by the leaders of our city and police.  More, we need funding and programs to help trafficked individuals transition out of prostitution.  

There needs to be improved education.  Some of the girls that are lured into the sex industry are girls; Under aged girls who are too young and naïve to realize what is actually happening.  Trafficking of boys and girls are typically for labour or sex.  This is Vancouver I’m talking about.  Some girls from other countries are lured into the industry with the false promise of better education in Canada.  The poor are being exploited.  Education of our children needs to happen at an early age.  And it needs to begin in our homes; At the core, it’s about helping them understand their value as persons as well as educating them on the dignity of all humans and that all human life needs to be respected.

Lastly, something must change in our local churches.  The Church needs to be at the forefront of the battle in what Cathy Peters summarized as a “fight against evil.”   In other words, the weekly message from the pulpits needs to change. When we are Pro-Life, we need to be concerned about the entire life and all stages of the individual’s life–”from Womb to Tomb” as Tom Cooper exhorted. We need a renewed understanding of who we are as persons made in the image of God.  People, in particular women and children, cannot be equal if they are treated as objects–objects that can be consumed or bought and sold as commodity.  All people are precious in the heart of God.  If the Christian message is simply about being saved and going to Heaven after we die, we are perpetuating the problem.  If the Christian message is about shalom, justice, compassion, love, kindness, rescue and restoration–we, as the Body of Christ, need to take action today to live out what we in fact believe in.  This is a calling to the whole people of God, and we need to work together NOW.

“Having heard of all of this you may choose to look the other way but you can never again say that you did not know.” – William Wilberforce

Damon Mak
damon@cityinfocus.ca