REED’s answer to Sex Traffickers
by Jack Taylor
In mid-October, 31 individuals had cooperated organizationally in a multi-provincial operation to pimp out 45 women and now they were faced with over 300 charges around sex-trafficking. Police had peeled back a small scab on a deep wound in Canada where the average age for victims is now under 15. The victims were prostituted seven days a week and the pimps earned about $1000 a day from the abuse.
“According to the Swedish way of thinking it can’t possibly benefit the progress of equality and human rights in our society to allow humans in general, and women in particular, to be bought, sold, and traded. When women are allowed to be reduced to commercial goods and even rated accordingly, it affects citizens’ overall view on women.” (Simon Haggstrom, Shadows Law: The True Story of a Swedish Detective Inspector Fighting Prostitution.)
Paige Letendre, Director of Education and Development for REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity), embraces the three-pronged Nordic Model of law which includes “enforcement to curb the demand through consequences… public education on the implicit harms of prostitution… and funding for exiting programs.” She says that this model, while effective, “has not been implemented properly across Canada, and though some provinces are doing better, ours, BC has largely taken a harm reduction approach and chosen not to enforce the law.” The Canadian version of the Nordic model is called the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).
REED has been functioning as a faith-based charity operating out of Vancouver since 2005. The two-fold approach to their work is explained by Letendre. “We resist exploitation by working to end the demand for access to the bodies of women and children that fuels human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We do this through education, advocacy, prevention, and awareness raising. We create and implement programs to educate and empower students and church communities towards the work of justice and mercy outlined in Micah 6:8. One component of this education is the Intelligent Love Course, which is designed to equip followers of Jesus to address the systemic injustice of the sex industry.”
She says, “We embrace dignity through the provision of crisis intervention and coordination of care, and serve women who have been impacted by sexual exploitation by coming alongside them in transformative friendship. We also have the great privilege of supporting survivors in their educational and practical needs through scholarships and bursaries. Critical to REED’s mandate is the task of combatting voicelessness by advocating for the voices of survivors and sexually-exploited women to be heard. We provide platforms to represent, honour, and recognize the experiences of the women we serve.”
Listening to First Nations friends about the plight of their family members trapped in the sex trade leaves no doubt there needs to be some significant action to free those enslaved by this brutal lifestyle. They spoke of a nineteen-year-old sister, drugged and locked in ‘The Green House’ with numerous others and forced to perform anything the customers wanted in exchange for fentanyl laced fixes.
Letendre says “the lower mainland is becoming known on escort review boards as a place where there are no consequences to buying sex and “hobbyists” can fulfil their fantasies without fear.”
Henri Noewen, quite rightly, states that, “We cannot suffer with the poor when we are unwilling to confront those persons and systems that cause poverty. We cannot set the captives free when we do not want to confront those who carry the keys. We cannot profess our solidarity with those who are oppressed when we are unwilling to confront the oppressor. Compassion without confrontation fades quickly to fruitless sentimental commiseration.”
It seems disturbing that the 2-3 percent who choose somewhat freely to sell themselves for sex are lauded as representative of the whole franchise. Letendre says “the truth is that those individuals are most often white, middle-class, and did in fact have other viable options. We should question why we hear from those individuals so often when they do not represent… the majority of those who are being exploited.”
Trisha Baptie, a founder of EVE (formerly Exploited Voices now Educating), was first offered money for sex when she was 13. For fifteen years, that is what she knew, never being educated past grade seven. She now “represents the voices of women across Canada in order that they maintain their anonymity.” EVE is a non-governmental, non-profit organization composed of former sex-industry women dedicated to naming prostitution violence against women and seeing its abolition through political action, advocacy, and awareness raising that focuses on ending the demand for paid sexual access to women and children’s bodies.”
Baptie covered the Robert Pickton trials as a journalist who lost friends to his horrific crimes. She now, as the public face of EVE, represents a membership of women across the country who represent all facets of the sex industry. In a TED talk given to SFU students, she says that “it is the male demand that must be dealt with. We must remember that it was never the laws that raped and murdered me and my friends – it was men. It was never the location we were in that was unsafe – it was the men who were in that location with us that make it unsafe.” She says that “legalizing and taxing prostitution is not the solution.”
Letendre states that “the sex industry is based off of sexism, racism, classism and ableism but also perpetuates each of these and other forms of inequality. If we are to love as Jesus loved, we need to recognize that we need to not only work towards the healing of the exploited, but also to do justice and prevent further exploitation.”
The Intelligent Love course, put on by REED, is an 8 week in-depth, interactive course designed to equip individuals and churches to address the systemic injustice of the sex industry in their own individual and collective contexts from a position rooted in faith. Letendre says “the title, Intelligent Love, is our way of referring to the need to move beyond charity to address systemic changes. The more justice we have, the less charity we need.” Participants engage with the following topics throughout the course: Biblical equality and justice, gender socialization, prostitution and trafficking in the lower mainland and Canada, demand as the root cause of sexual exploitation, pornography, legal challenges, colonization and race, a survivor’s story. For more information about the next course beginning in February 2020, please reach out to REED at firstname.lastname@example.org.
REED’s values include non-violence, dignity for all people, prayer, human rights, imaginative hope and strengths-based empowerment. Individuals are invited to volunteer for fundraising, administration, Intelligent Love courses, or for social media and marketing opportunities. Prayer gatherings need support and monthly donors are always welcomed. REED educators are available for schools, youth groups, church presentations, or small groups. The organization is open to any creative fundraisers.